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If you engage in binge eating and alcohol misuse, you are not alone. These two conditions have been associated with similar underlying physical and psychological factors due to their compulsive nature. Substance misuse and disordered eating are unhealthy strategies individuals sometimes use to deal with negative emotions. However, a person’s emotional state may worsen during a binge, often leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and self-pity. These maladaptive behaviors prevent individuals from effectively coping with stress and emotional triggers.

Guardian Recovery offers specialized treatment for people with co-occurring alcohol misuse, compulsive disorders, and other mental health issues. We offer programs for every stage of the recovery process, including medical detoxinpatient treatmentpartial hospitalizationoutpatient programs, and ongoing aftercare. We understand the importance of offering a multi-faceted, long-term recovery approach that provides individuals with a holistic path to healing.

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What Is Binge Eating?

Mild overeating is relatively normal for many people. Binge eating, on the other hand, is a more extreme form of overeating. It is marked by a compulsive, rapid food intake in quantities well beyond what the body requires, often to the point of discomfort. Unlike mild overeating, binge eating is unhealthy and can become problematic. The causes of binge eating are numerous, and it occurs in many contexts and almost all demographics.

General binge eating can be distinguished from binge eating disorder (BED), an eating disorder with serious, sometimes life-threatening health consequences. Otherwise healthy individuals may occasionally binge eat for various reasons, such as for celebration (e.g., Thanksgiving) or during momentary lapses of control while dieting.

However, a person with BED experiences specific criteria, such as frequent, recurring episodes of binge eating in a discrete period (e.g., 2 hours) at least one day a week over three months. Individuals with BED also feel a lack of control over food intake, as well as distress, disgust, and embarrassment over their behavior. (1)

BED can range in severity from one episode a week (mild) to 14 episodes a week (extreme). Although BED occurs more often in women than men, this disparity is not as significant as in other eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. (2) Furthermore, unlike general binge eating, most individuals with BED report no dieting before episodes.

Associations Between Binge Eating & Alcohol Use

A person’s propensity to binge eat or develop BED results from the interplay of countless genetic, familial, environmental, social, physiological, and psychological factors. Nevertheless, research demonstrates that alcohol use directly affects and is associated with binge eating and BED in several significant ways. Overall, consuming alcohol increases appetite, makes eating more satisfying, and reduces control over eating.

Alcohol Reduces Inhibitions

Alcohol reduces inhibitions and impairs decision-making. As a result, individuals are generally more likely to make poor choices with regard to nutrition when they drink. Although these consequences of alcohol use may not directly cause binge eating per se, they compound with other factors to increase overall risk.

Alcohol Can Increase Appetite & Alter Cravings

Certain alcoholic drinks have been known to increase appetite since at least the 5th century AD. The term apéritif refers to a drink—commonly wine—consumed before meals to increase appetite, enhance food aroma and flavor, and make eating more pleasurable. (3)

Drinking alcohol also alters what kinds of food people crave. In particular, drinking decreases cravings for sweet foods and increases cravings for fatty and salty foods like potato chips, french fries, and pizza. (4) These oft-called “drunk munchies” increase the likelihood a person will binge on these foods.

Alcohol Tricks the Brain

Alcohol’s effect on hunger appears strange from a nutritional perspective. This is because alcoholic beverages are often high in calories, yet the intake of calories usually causes the brain to suppress hunger signals and induce a feeling of fullness. Research indicates that alcohol use may stimulate AgRP neurons in the hypothalamus normally activated during starvation. In other words, alcohol can induce binge eating because it causes a sensation akin to starving. (5)

Alcohol Can Impair Feelings of Fullness

When a person’s body lacks nutrients, the brain secretes a chemical called NPY (neuropeptide Y), which stimulates appetite and motivates food consumption. After a person eats an adequate amount of food, the brain then secretes a hormone called leptin, which induces satiety or feelings of fullness by inhibiting NPY. One study suggests that ingestion of moderate levels of alcohol inhibits leptin secretion. (6) Consequently, some people experience a reduced ability to feel full, which may lead to binge eating.

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Hangovers Can Lead To Binge Eating

Individuals often experience hangovers the morning after a night of excessive alcohol consumption. A common hangover symptom is an onset or worsening of anxiety or depression. Moreover, research indicates that both depression and anxiety symptoms trigger binge eating episodes. (7)(8) For this reason, heavy alcohol consumption can indirectly provoke binge eating.

Binge Eating Can Lead To Binge Drinking

Causation may work both ways. University of Valencia researchers conducted a study of 428 undergraduate students that “provides evidence of a direct relationship between binge eating and fat intake and binge drinking.” (9) The study revealed that binge eating a high-fat diet increased binge drinking episodes among participants. Conversely, restrained eating decreased binge drinking episodes, and this was mediated by reduced fat intake.

Links Between Alcohol Use Disorder & Binge Eating Disorder

The current scientific literature reveals many connections between AUD and BED. Because problematic alcohol use and binge eating are both compulsive behaviors, the causal factors of AUD and BED overlap in meaningful ways. That said, further research is needed to determine the nature and extent of these connections and whether they are correlative, causative, or merely coincidental.

Links Between AUD & BED Include:

  • AUD and BED often co-occur.
  • AUD and BED have many other co-occurring disorders in common, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar.
  • 73.8% (10) of individuals with BED report a co-occurring psychiatric condition, compared to 21% (11) for the rest of the population.
  • Emotional dysregulation (12) and impulse control problems (13) are predictors of both AUD and BED.
  • Alcohol and binge eating are both used to self-medicate negative emotions. (14)
  • Individuals who binge eat are 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with AUD. (15)
  • Individuals with severe BED are more likely to misuse alcohol in general. (16)
  • Specific neurochemicals (dopaminegalanin, AgRP) play major roles in both AUD and BED. (17)(18)

Both alcohol dependence and binge eating can lead to withdrawal symptoms related to dopamine activation and sensitivity. (19)

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Binge Eating & Alcohol Use Disorder

When eating disorders and substance use disorders co-occur, it can sometimes result in poorer health and treatment outcomes for both conditions. Fortunately, Guardian Recovery offers individually-customized treatment plans that simultaneously address co-occurring conditions, such as AUD and BED.

Characteristic Features of Effective Dual Diagnosis Treatment Include: 

  • Providing education and insight into AUD and BED and their shared risks and causes.
  • Developing healthy coping strategies.
  • Identifying potential triggers and recovery obstacles.
  • Customizing a plan to prevent relapse.
  • Providing education about AUD and BED, including their similarities and risks.
  • Providing education about nutrition and planning diets that supplement recovery.

Among research-based treatments, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is currently considered the most effective for addressing co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders. (20) Many aspects of the CBT approach have been clinically shown to be beneficial for treating both alcohol dependence and eating disorders.

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We Offer Comprehensive Treatment Programs for Binge Eating & Alcohol Use Disorder

If you are struggling with binge eating and alcohol use disorder, we encourage you to reach out to Guardian Recovery to learn more about our comprehensive programs. Our personalized treatment plans and evidence-based therapies are designed to address co-occurring disorders and all aspects of physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Contact us today to speak with an experienced Treatment Advisor for a free, no-obligation assessment and health insurance benefits check. We can help you determine which level of care is right for you and explain your many treatment options. If you are ready to take the first step in reclaiming your life, we can guide you through the treatment process and ensure you receive the tools you need to sustain long-lasting sobriety and wellness.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK338301/table/introduction.t1/ (2)(20)https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/151-160.htm (3)(5)https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14014 (4)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6876497/ (6)https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1365-2265.2001.01401.x (7)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666308005321?via%3Dihub (8)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4768578/ (9)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7766311/ (10)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0193953X17300060?via%3Dihub (11)https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness (12)https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/163806/add15155.pdf?sequence=1 (13)https://digitalcommons.murraystate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=etd (14)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352853219301890 (15)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7736190/ (16)https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma10-4617.pdf (17)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2977997/ (18)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6724711/ (19)https://www.ut.edu/uploadedFiles/Academics/Acta_Spartae/AS_0501p1Colaianni.pdf

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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