Drug Use and Body Image

woman in bed suffering from binge eating disorder

Contributor: Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

The relationship between body image and drug use is both undeniable and enigmatic. Teens and young adults with poor body image are more likely than their peers to use drugs, multiple research shows. This appears to be the case in both males and females, and it’s likely for various reasons.

Almost 10 percent of teenage boys are extremely concerned with getting and keeping a muscular body1. Some (2.5%) use supplements, growth hormones, or even illegal anabolic steroids, coined “body image drugs,” to attain the coveted muscular physique. Steroid use, which is illegal without a doctor’s prescription, is a corridor to binge-drinking, use of street drugs, and eating disorders.

About 50 percent of people with an eating disorder also abuse drugs and/or alcohol, a rate 5 times greater than what’s seen in the general population, according to the National Eating Disorder Association.

People with Eating Disorders Are More Likely to Abuse Substances

People with bulimia and “bulimic” behaviors, like binging and purging, statistically have a far greater propensity for substance abuse than those with anorexia nervosa. In fact, women who binge-and-purge use/abuse more substances than women with other eating disorders and women, in general2.

Typically the eating disorder, accompanied by poor body image, arises in someone before substance use; and then the eating disorder fuels the substance abuse, according to a 2-year study of more than 1,300 eighth-graders3.

Why Substance Abuse Rates Are So Much Higher

Uncertain. Girl in white and arrows.The study found substance use served adolescents with poor body image in several ways. Substance use could be a weight-control strategy for teens with decreased body image due to weight. It also could be a perceived way to be accepted by peers or appear “cool.” Substance use can also act as a coping mechanism for teenagers whose poor body image may decrease self-esteem, which can lead to depression and greater propensity for substance abuse.

Substance use also has been found to accompany subclinical eating disorder symptoms, such as frequent dieting, which often coincide with low body esteem.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or your loved one abused drugs while suffering from poor body image? What steps have you taken within your recovery to improve your view of yourself?

About the Author:

Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.

  1. Field, A., Sonneville K., Crosby R., Swanson S., Eddy K., Camargo C., Horton, N, Micali, N. (2014). Prospective associations of concerns about physique and the development of obesity, binge drinking, and drug use among adolescent boys and young adult men. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(1), 34-39.
  2. Blinder BJ, Cumella EJ, Sanathara VA. Psychiatric comorbidities of female inpatients with eating disorders. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2006;68:454-462.
  3. Nieri, T., Kulis, S., Keith, V. M., & Hurdle, D. (2005). Body Image, Acculturation, and Substance Abuse Among Boys and Girls in the Southwest. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 31(4), 617–639.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 19th, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

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