Contributor: Courtney Howard, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope
During the holidays, eggnog flows at family parties and old friends come from out of town, wanting to meet up for a drink. While drinking alcohol at these festivities might seem innocent at the time, an individual in recovery from an eating disorder must gauge his or her own progress to determine whether alcohol is a responsible choice.
Eating disorders and alcohol can be a dangerous combination. Alcohol and illicit substances are often used to supplement disordered eating through appetite suppression or to induce vomiting. They can also be used to numb an individual in a way similar to the eating disorder.
Though recent data does not exist on the relationship between alcohol abuse and eating disorders, one 1994 study  suggests that as many as 50 percent of individuals coping with eating disorders concurrently struggle with substance abuse or addiction.
Individuals with eating disorders typically live in extremes. There are no shades of grey. It follows that alcohol abuse and addiction are common in this population, as one glass of wine after work can turn into a night of binge drinking at the twist of the corkscrew.
Total abstinence from alcohol can often be easier during recovery than practicing moderation. If this is the case, sobriety is recommended.
It is essential for anyone in recovery from an eating disorder to be realistic about whether it is safe to drink during the holidays. Not having a history of substance abuse while his or her eating disorder was active does not ensure that it will not develop in recovery.
The holidays often present stress and other triggers. If an individual is not secure in his or her eating disorder recovery then alcohol use can quickly turn to abuse, replacing disordered eating as the maladaptive coping mechanism of choice.
Further research must be conducted to determine whether it is more common for those who have eating disorders to develop substance abuse habits or if those who first abuse drugs or alcohol are more prone to disordered eating. Regardless, the connection is irrefutable.
Some professionals in the field believe that there is a common genetic component that makes certain people at higher risk of both conditions. A 2002 publication  by professors at the Yale University School of Medicine reports, “Although such diagnostic co-occurrence suggests the possibility of shared factors in the etiology or maintenance of these problems, research has not established such links.”
Ask Your Team
Those currently in any level of treatment are encouraged to speak with their treatment team before drinking during the holidays. In some cases, these professionals can work with the individual to determine a preset limit for alcohol consumption, similar to a meal plan.
For example, someone can agree to mindfully drink just one alcoholic beverage at a holiday party. However, many medications do not mix well with alcohol. Individuals taking prescription medication daily, including antidepressants, should consult with their psychiatrist before drinking at all.
If someone in recovery from an eating disorder decides to drink alcohol during the holiday season, it is recommended to set an intention or predetermined limit and move forward with this in mind. No glass of eggnog is worth putting recovery in jeopardy.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
Do you limit your alcohol intake in your recovery from disordered eating? If not, has alcohol intake had a negative effect on your recovery?
References: Holderness, C. C., Brooks-Gunn, J. and Warren, M. P. (1994). “Co-morbidity of eating disorders and substance abuse review of the literature,” Int. J. Eat. Disord., 16: 1–34.
: Grilo, C., Sinha, R. and O’Malley, S. (2002). “Eating Disorders and Alcohol Use Disorders,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
About the Author: Courtney Howard is a Certified Life Coach specializing in eating disorders
through Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching. As a content writer at The Sovereign Health Group while writing freelance through Eating Disorder Hope, Courtney is a passionate advocate for recovery and works to fight the stigma surrounding all mental health disorders. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 16, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com