The Risk Factors of Using Drugs or Alcohol to Lose WeightAnna Ciulla
Using drugs or alcohol to shed a few pounds can be medically risky. Whether it’s drinking, smoking or taking Adderall to lose weight, the risk factors far outweigh the body-trimming benefits. Find out the very real health dangers here:
Drug or alcohol abuse and addiction often can begin as an effort to lose weight, and there is a high co-occurrence of substance abuse among people with eating disorders, according to accumulated research. Affecting nearly 50 percent of people with eating disorders, substance abuse reportedly occurs at a rate five times greater than its rate of occurrence among the general population. This article will discuss the risk factors of using drugs or alcohol to lose weight, including what substances are often misused towards this end, the physical dangers of this unhealthy form of dieting, and who tends to be more at risk.
The Link Between Dieting and Substance Abuse
The link between dieting and substance abuse is especially apparent among younger populations and women:
- College women who displayed greater severity of dieting and other symptoms of eating disorders also suffered from higher rates of alcohol, cigarette and other drug use, in a 1992 study. The study was originally undertaken to explore the seemingly high frequency of alcohol use disorder in clients with a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa, a disorder that involves ritualized bouts of heavy overeating followed by self-induced vomiting, purging or fasting.
- A NBC News report in 2008 chronicled a rising trend in women misusing so-called smart drugs for ADHD, such as the popular stimulant Adderall, in order to “speed diet.”
- Another study found that dieting during the pre-adolescent years, around sixth grade, predicted future alcohol use.
Losing Weight Via Alcohol, Cigarettes or Smart Drugs
Three common forms of substance abuse for weight loss purposes involve drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and taking stimulant drugs. In the first case, the notion of using alcohol to lose weight may sound counter-intuitive. (Alcohol tends to be highly caloric.) However, many bulimics reportedly drink alcohol as a way to purge. For this population, drinking apparently feeds a cycle of regurgitation and dehydration. Eating disorder experts have explained this phenomenon on the basis of the fact that purging liquid (alcohol) is easier than purging solid food.
In addition, heavy or binge drinking reduces the appetite and speeds up the body’s metabolism, because the liver has to work extra hard to break down alcohol and remove it from the body.
Smoking can also, not uncommonly, be motivated by the aim to lose weight. Nicotine is a stimulant that suppresses appetite, after all. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found, for example, that smoking was more prevalent among adolescent girls who either were overweight, trying to lose weight, or saw themselves as overweight.
Taking prescription stimulant drugs is another common form of weight loss-inducing substance abuse, the idea being that stimulants suppress appetite. Psycho-stimulants (also known as “smart drugs”) like Ritalin and Adderall don’t just decrease appetite. They also increase the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine (one reason they can be highly addictive). That in turn speeds up the nervous system and metabolism, boosts energy levels, and can trigger the body’s “fight or flight” response mechanisms (which also reduce food intake), thereby leading to weight loss.
Smart drugs and alcohol are not the only substances that people turn to in order to lose weight. Other illicit, prescription and over-the counter drugs that reportedly have been misused for weight loss purposes include the following substances:
- club drugs like Ecstasy
- minor tranquilizers
- thyroid medications
- diet pills
- syrup of ipecac
- weight loss supplements like Orlistat and Alli
The Health Dangers of Using Alcohol to Lose Weight
There are serious health dangers to drinking alcohol in order to lose weight. For one thing, alcohol is a toxin, especially to the liver, and is devoid of any nutritional value. The empty calories spent on drinking only succeed in both depriving and depleting the body of essential vitamins and minerals found in nutrient-rich foods.
Excess alcohol also prevents the absorption of key amino acids that are critical to healthy organ functioning, by damaging the intestinal tract, which then reduces the body’s capacity to absorb these nutrients and reallocating precious cellular resources to the sole function of removing alcohol from the system. The body cannot store alcohol, after all.
Poor diet and nutrition due to excess alcohol can lead to major organ failure, cancer and other serious and life-threatening conditions.
How Smoking to Lose Weight Is Bad for You
Smoking to lose weight can be very bad for you. The undisputed takeaway from 50-70 years of research into the health effects of cigarettes is that smoking raises the risks of lung cancer and many other cancers, and can also lead to Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In fact, smoking causes more deaths each year, according to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control, than the following causes combined:
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Illegal drug use
- Alcohol use
- Motor vehicle injuries
- Firearm-related incidents
The Health Risks of Using Smart Drugs to Lose Weight
Short or long-term smart drug use for the purpose of losing weight also can pose serious health risks. These include the following:
- Long-term damage to the brain (especially to the developing brains of young people, according to research)
- Cardiac problems, including high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, heart disease, and sudden cardiac death
- Psychosis and schizophrenia-like symptoms, such as paranoid delusions and hallucinations
If you have been using any of the above drugs in order to lose weight, help and treatment are available.
Beach House Center for Recovery’s Learning Center also contains more detailed information related to the risk factors of using alcohol to lose weight, including the health dangers of alcohol, the long-term effects of alcohol on the kidneys, and the long-term effects of too much alcohol.