Alcoholism and Eating Habits. Do I need Help?

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When a person drinks large amounts of alcohol per day, they put their life and health in great danger. Excessive exposure to alcoholic beverages can lead a person to lose his appetite.

People who suffer from these conditions related to poor nutrition due to high alcohol consumption should enrol in a rehabilitation programme.

Is there something inside an alcoholic beverage that causes a person not to eat? Below we cover a few possibilities.

1. They Prefer to Drink, Rather than Eat 

For someone who is used to drinking regularly, their priority is to consume alcohol rather than paying attention to their health.

That’s why most alcoholics spend more time drinking instead of eating healthy foods. This is the main reasons behind the loss of appetites among alcoholics.  

2. Alcoholism Affects a Person’s Appetite 

Several studies conclude that extreme exposure to alcoholic beverages regularly can negatively impact a person’s appetite or way of eating.

The research done by Dr Anna Kokavec  concluded that when a person consumes alcohol, the biochemical processes that regulate one’s appetite is affected.

That’s why alcoholics have reduced appetites.  

3. Heavy Drinkers Desire for Fatty Foods 

Individuals who are constantly exposed to heavy drinking usually have poor choices of foods. 

So, why are most alcoholics not fond of eating? The answer is that they are still eating foods, but they eat unhealthy ones.  

The research was performed at Princeton, concluding that his body produces Galanin when a person drinks alcoholic beverage.

Galanin is a hormone that pushes a person to have extreme cravings for fatty foods.

4. Possible Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

Alcoholic ketoacidosis is a condition developed mainly by those exposed to alcohol drinking for a long time. This condition leads to malnourishment, wherein a person’s body has low insulin levels.  

According to professionals, alcoholic ketoacidosis is a severe condition that needs to be treated immediately.

If left untreated, it can cause severe symptoms, such as light-headedness’, extreme thirst, feeling dizzy, irregular breathing, loss of appetite, vomiting, feeling nauseous, slow movement, and extreme tiredness.

5. Liver Disease and Late Stage Alcoholism

There are three stages of alcoholism; the early stage, middle stage, and late-stage or end-stage alcoholism.

At this stage, too much intake of alcohol already caused a person to suffer from chronic health issues. One of them is severe alcoholic liver disease.  

The signs and symptoms of liver disease include bloody stools, too much fluid in the stomach, weakness, itchy skin, high fever, oedema, jaundice, weight loss, and loss of appetite.

The only thing that an alcoholic person can do to treat liver disease is by quitting drinking and smoking together with proper intake of medicines prescribed by doctors.

Nutritional Deficiencies Caused by Heavy Drinking

Excessive use of alcohol is one of the top reasons behind the death of American citizens.

Heavy drinking killed approximately 88,000 individuals in the US every year. Aside from that, too much alcohol use can cause severe long-term psychological and physical problems, including nutritional deficiency.  

If a person drinks alcohol regularly for a long time, he may suffer from the depletion of essential minerals and vitamins that maintains a healthy body.

Nutritional deficiency because of too much alcohol consumption is very notable to both adolescents and teenagers. 

More than 33 percent of adults and teenagers admitted to too much use of alcohol.

People who exposed themselves to alcohol at an early age are prone to nutritional deficiency because their digestive systems aren’t matured enough to handle a vast amount of alcohol.  

People who realized the negative consequences of too much alcohol consumption tend to enrol themselves in a rehabilitation programme.

There are several health issues a person may get because of improper use of alcohol. Most of them are because of ignoring his dietary needs.  

A small amount of alcohol is absorbed by the body by using some of its nutrients.

If a person has a low appetite, his body may not produce nutrients to replace the used ones. With that, it could result in the deprivation of essential nutrients needed by the body.  

Aside from that, alcohol negatively affects a person’s pancreas. With that, it won’t be able to perform its function efficiently.

This could result in improper functioning of the body and poor health.

How Does Too Much Consumption of Alcohol Lead to Nutritional Deficiency?

Untreated and long-term use of alcohol can affect the health of a person in different ways.

One of these is by robbing the essential nutrients needed by the body to function well.

The following are some ways how alcoholism causes nutritional deficiency.

Gastrointestinal Obstruction

If a person consumes a large amount of alcohol regularly, it can cause scratches to the lining of his gastrointestinal system. When that happens, it can slow down the way the body absorbs the nutrients.  

Aside from that, it also leads the body to use the nutrients and vitamins they absorbed quickly.

This nutritional deficiency can cause several health issues, such as but not limited to tooth decay, bone loss, depression, frequent sickness, dehydration, extreme pain, and chronic tiredness.

If the body does not have enough vitamins, it can lead to more severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, together with long-term sickness and pain. 

Loss of Appetite or Eating Disorder

As mentioned, alcoholics do not eat healthy foods but rather prefer eating fatty-rich dishes and drinking alcohol.

They do not eat because they feel full by taking alcohol since the substance contains calories.

If a person’s body receives only calories, he is not receiving the right amount of nutrients and vitamins needed by the body to keep healthy.

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Eating Disorder

A person may develop an eating disorder by consuming alcohol excessively. An eating disorder does not always mean that a person eats a large amount of food.  

This is applicable, especially to those individuals who have a dual diagnosis. A lot of studies concluded that alcohol use disorders usually happen together with eating disorders.  

This is because people who suffer from unhealthy eating condition usually think that they can control their behaviour and regulate their emotions by drinking alcohol.  

The occurrence of an eating disorder varies based on the existing eating disorder type a person may have.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, four different eating disorders include binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and an eating disorder.  

In most cases, eating disorders are not able to teenagers and adolescents. But full-grown individuals may also suffer from this disorder.  

A person who have alcohol use disorder and eating disorder usually show self-destructive characteristic. This means that they show traits of being dramatic, impulsive, perfectionist, and anxious.

These characteristics concluded that when a person has an eating disorder, he/she may use alcohol to cope with daily stress and problems brought by their eating disorder.  

This condition is considered to be addictive. Individuals who suffer from eating disorders usually show an addictive characteristic that they can release by alcohol abuse and eating.

That’s why many professionals believed a clear connection between alcohol abuse and an eating disorder.  

Many studies also confirmed that patients suffering from an eating disorder who use substances to control its symptoms are susceptible to show poorer results and worse symptoms compared to those who only have an eating disorder.

These symptoms include severe psychiatric conditions and medical complications, higher relapse rates, poorer functional outcomes, and longer recovery times.


Drunkorexia is an unhealthy condition wherein a person restricts himself from eating so that his stomach will have larger space for alcohol without gaining weight. Drunkorexics are the persons who suffer from drunkorexia.  

Drunkorexics restrict themselves from consuming calories from foods to compensate for the number of calories they can get from drinking alcohol.

Considering that alcoholic beverages do not contain any nutritional value, drunkorexics are most likely to suffer from malnourishment and other social and health consequences linked to alcohol addiction.  

This condition is notable among female students, although males and females older from this age range are also more likely to develop this disorder.

Researchers stated that college-age females are prone to this disorder because of peer pressure, the prevalence of drinking, and the fear of weight gain while they are in college.  

Even though drunkorexia does not cause a person to have an extreme weight gain during the first months of alcohol drinking, but when they exposed themselves to alcohol for a long time, weight gain could occur together with more severe health consequences.

Alcoholism, Eating Disorder, and Psychiatric Disorder

Eating disorders and excessive use of alcohol may happen together with some types of psychiatric illness.

Some researchers found out that substance use disorder and eating disorder happen because of different psychiatric conditions. 

Many studies concluded that individuals suffering from the two mentioned disorders might show impulsiveness, which is one of the close symptoms to psychiatric disorders, including Borderline Personality and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Aside from that, other factors that affect the development of psychiatric, alcohol use, and eating disorders include family dysfunction, sexual abuse, and child abuse. 

Anorexia Nervosa and Alcoholism 

Anorexia is one of the four types of eating disorders. It is referred to as the condition wherein a person has a fear of weight gain.

There are two subtypes of anorexia. The first one is the restricting type, wherein the person experiences purge eating/binge eating and extreme and strict dieting.  

Individuals who are suffering from this type of eating disorder have an extremely distorted body shape.

Even though they are skinny, people with anorexia nervosa see themselves as being fat or overweight. Aside from that, they also deny themselves for being thin.  

Most individuals, no matter what their age, usually experience anorexia nervosa. But in most cases, individuals age 14 to 18 years old often experience anorexia effects. This also often happens to women.  

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder with a high relapse rate. This can also lead to serious medical conditions or even death because of too much starvation.

The following are the possible signs and symptoms that individuals with anorexia nervosa may experience.  

  • Secretiveness and isolation 
  • Loss of interest to do physical activities and socialize with friends 
  • Fainting 
  • They use consecutive excuses to prevent themselves from eating 
  • They cannot control themselves 
  • They see themselves being overweight or fat even though they are malnourished or skinny 
  • Dizziness 
  • Preoccupation with dieting, fat grams, calories, food, and weight 
  • Excessive weight loss 

Unlike binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa does not occur together with substance abuse.

Despite that, individuals who suffer from alcohol use disorder and anorexia usually use alcohol to keep their appetites low.

If a person drinks alcohol without eating beforehand is dangerous. This is because it increases the possible happening of alcohol-related injuries, memory loss, and alcohol poisoning.

How to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder and Eating Disorders

Many students concluded that while the treatment is ongoing, both alcohol use disorder and eating disorder should be treated using a multi-disciplinary approach.

Two of the most effective treatments for these two disorders are dialectical behavioural therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.

The following are some treatments that include in dialectal behavioural therapy: 

  • Impulse control practices 
  • Coping skills 
  • Techniques to regulate a person’s mood 
  • Helping the person be aware of their choices and problems 

Aside from that, both eating and alcohol use disorders can be treated by naltrexone, a form of opioids.

Dietary planning and education are also effective ways of treating alcohol and eating disorders.

Inpatient treatment, hospitalization, or medical stabilization may also be necessary depending on the severity of the condition.

Get help for alcoholism today

To conclude, there is a clear connection between alcoholism and eating disorders. 

If you or a loved one is ready to commit to overcome an alcohol addiction, contact our friendly clinic staff  today.

With locations nationwide, our new rehab clinic in Scotland and our flagship clinic in Gloucester we will find treatment programmes that help you get and stay sober. 

About the author

Laura Morris

Laura Morris is an experienced clinical practitioner and CQC Registered Manager with over twenty years experience, over ten of which have been as an Independent Nurse Prescriber.

She has held a number of senior leadership roles in the substance use and mental health sector in the NHS, the prison service and in leading social enterprises in the field.

Last Updated: October 31, 2023