By Dixie Brown, MS, ICAADC, CAP, LCAS, Executive Director of Willow Place for Women
Occasional binge eating and binge drinking is somewhat expected. American culture tends to lend itself to overindulgence. Certain national holidays even seem to revolve around the concept of overdoing it – Christmas and Thanksgiving, to name a few. Christmas is a holiday characterized by compulsive over-shopping, while it is socially acceptable (and expected) that we gorge on stuffing and pumpkin pie to the point of physical illness once a year on Turkey Day. And certainly at one point or another during our young adult years, we drank to the point of black-out on one wild and crazy night on the town. But for the millions of Americans suffering from binge eating disorder and alcoholism, overindulgence has become an uncontrollable and potentially life-threatening problem.
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder among American adults. It has been scientifically proven that those who binge to excess (to the point that bingeing becomes a serious issue) do so to attempt to deal with negative emotions in a way that is neither healthy nor rational. Bingeing on food typically leads to overwhelming feelings of shame, guilt, and self-loathing, which then exacerbates the destructive behavioral patterns.
Binge eating and binge drinking
Not surprisingly, many individuals who suffer from BED are simultaneously afflicted with substance abuse disorders – binge drinking disorder, or alcoholism, most commonly. Binge eating and binge drinking also share common risk factors and signs.
As it turns out, any variation of binge-related disorder can be categorized in three main ways: chemical, psychological, or sociocultural. Take a look at these three classifications, and the corresponding treatment for each disorder, as well as any potential comorbidities.
Chemical causes of binge disorders
Most binge eating and binge drinking disorders originate from an intense neurological chemical reaction – overindulgence simply feels great at first. The brain releases copious amounts of dopamine (a chemical that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside) when we eat a lot of fatty or sugary foods, or drink a little too much alcohol. The dopamine that the brain releases during a primary binge can quickly lead to a chemical addiction.
We begin to binge more and more frequently because we crave that intense rush of chemicals that we experienced initially. If an individual starts with low dopamine levels, he or she may experience slight to moderate depression – which can also lead to bingeing. Those who are predisposed to BED or alcoholism may also be triggered by high stress levels or anxiety. It is important for those who suffer from any binge-related disorder to take care of all potential underlying issues related to brain chemistry. Doing so will inevitably make recovery easier to maintain.
Psychological causes of binge disorders
Binge drinking and binge eating disorder have commonly been attributed to the presence of undiagnosed psychological disorders. For example, those who suffer from depression are liable to experience overwhelming feelings of low self-esteem, worthlessness, and decreased impulse control – all which can contribute to the beginning of a food-related binge. The feelings of guilt and shame resulting from this binge may lead to an increase in alcohol consumption in attempt to numb the uncomfortable feelings.
The lack of inhibitions that result from binge drinking episodes are liable to lead to more binge eating, which in turn lead once again to unmanageable feelings of depression. It is quite a vicious cycle – one that many who are prone to bingeing behaviors get stuck in.
Treating psychological disorders is crucial to prolonged recovery from both disorders.
Sociocultural causes of binge disorders
Social pressures relating to perfection can certainly lead people to binge on both food and alcohol. The desire to ‘fit in’ drives many to begin drinking to excess, and it is exceedingly true that many women suffer from eating disorders that are exacerbated by unrealistic societal standards. In most cases, those who suffer from BED and alcoholism face a combination of contributing factors and can best be treated in a professional inpatient facility that treats eating disorders and substance dependency issues simultaneously.
The vicious cycle of BED and alcoholism can lead to utter devastation – but recovery is entirely possible.
More about Dixie Brown
As owner and executive director of Willow Place for Women in West Palm Beach, FL, and Asheville, NC, Dixie’s vision has been to reach clients struggling with mental health disorders from a holistic approach and provide gender-specific treatment that addresses core issues that have led clients to substance dependence, eating disorders and other co-occurring disorders. Dixie holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Business Management and her Master of Science degree in Counseling Psychology. She is currently studying for a PhD in Mind-Body Medicine specializing in Integrative Mental Health. She is also working toward certifications in biochemical and nutritional approaches to mental health and addiction recovery, the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals Certification for Eating Disorder Specialists and Family Life Coaching. In addition to specializing in substance use and marriage/family counseling, Dixie is certified in EMDR therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, a form of psychotherapy used to resolve the development of trauma-related disorders. Dixie is passionate about reaching clients who do not respond to conventional modalities of therapy. Primarily through the use of psychodrama, art and expressive therapy, she has been able to access these clients to facilitate lasting change.