Are binge eaters more likely to take drugs?

Binge eaters may be more likely to take drugs because such consumption could lead to addiction-like behaviours. This is the suggestion of new research from Penn State College of Medicine, which found eating lots in a short space of time can make a person more prone to actions such as substance abuse.

Published in the journal Behavioural Neuroscience, the study showed drug-taking and binge eating are both characterised by a loss of consumption control.

Professor Patricia Sue Grigson of the Department of Neural and Behavioural Sciences at the learning institute, noted the high co-occurrence of eating disorders and substance abuse disorders does not come as much of a surprise, given the similarities between the two.

"It is unknown, however, whether loss of control in one disorder predisposes an individual to loss of control in another," Professor Grigson went on to note.

Using rats, the team found an association between overconsumption of fat and cocaine-seeking and taking, which may mean the promotion of one behaviour might influence the other.

Michael Cohen, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "The Penn State College research identifies a co-occurrence of eating disorders and substance abuse disorders. I have worked in addiction for 20 years and many of my substance abuse clients have suffered from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia/binge-eating. 

"However, whilst eating disorders do undoubtedly co-exist with, say, abuse of legalised prescription drugs, illegal drugs or alcohol, for me this serves to highlight the often-ignored existence of cross addiction - the transfer of addictions or exchange of one addiction for another. It is just another way for people trying to 'fix' themselves.

"Therefore I would qualify Professor Grigson's comment in that loss of control in one disorder may predispose an individual with an addictive personality, to loss of control in another. For sincere and hopeful people, who are trying to overcome an addiction, often fall victim to the lure of cross-addiction. 

"Dependent drinkers in recovery might use cocaine as they believe that the odd 'snort' is ok. They think, 'I can take it or leave it!' Cocaine addicts might feel a glass of red wine with dinner is ok: 'It's not my addiction.' Binge eaters might feel that the odd joint or a line of coke is healthier than binge eating. 

"They reason, 'I have used these chemicals before and they have never caused me problems.' This reasoning may seem sound at first, but in reality it is flawed thinking - a deceptive first step on fixing themselves by another route.

"Rationalisation such as this is very common and often there is some truth in it.  The person's experience may support the idea that some addictions are more harmful than others. Some are legal and some are not; some are addictive and some are not. These truths help to blind the person to the cross-addictive nature of their condition. Some 'experts' are unaware of the existence of cross addiction.

"The new addiction may not happen immediately: it can take months, even years.  The main problem is that when one addiction is substituted for another, resolve may weaken and prompt a return to the drug of choice, whether food, alcohol or drugs.

"The Penn State College team found, in rats, an association between overconsumption of fat and cocaine-seeking which indicates for Professor Grigson the possibility that one behaviour might influence the other – with the implication that for the rat, cocaine-seeking had already been discovered as another route to the feel good factor. 

"For me, this is far removed from someone with an addictive personality which, combined with a variety of other identifiable factors, has resulted in an eating disorder in an attempt, albeit unconscious, to 'fix' problems which have become seemingly otherwise insurmountable.

"For rats, I suppose, you might withdraw the vast quantities of fat to effect change. However, the void a person feels from abstinence will demand satisfaction in order to avoid the pain, discomfort and stresses of day-to-day living. Some addictive behaviours can be addressed through complete abstinence, for example alcohol, but, like eating, others cannot! 

"Since abstinence is not an option, the person must learn to set limits, which can best be done through therapy, groupwork and joining relevant organisations."