Laxative Abuse and Bulimia

image of a laxative to symbolize dependence on it in bulimiaLaxatives: Use vs. Abuse

Periodic use of laxatives isn’t unusual. Constipation and intestinal upset can surface for many reasons, and appropriate, short-term use of laxatives can provide much-needed relief. But the use of laxatives for weight loss is dangerous and it can contribute to physical complications and even life-threatening illnesses. Sadly, laxative abuse is rarely discussed or discovered, even as part of medical or psychological intake and treatment. Abuse of laxatives is quietly very common among those who struggle with bulimia. Many physicians do not question their patients about their use of over-the-counter laxatives and, perhaps out of shame or resistance to quit using them, patients who abuse laxatives tend to keep that secret to themselves. Without exploring the truth behind the symptoms of constipation, the actual cause is ignored, and attempts to remedy the symptoms often end up exacerbating the problem.

Laxative Dependency

Laxatives are available in many forms: pills, powders, liquids, oils, suppositories, and even chocolate. They are sometimes prescribed by physicians but they are more often purchased over the counter. If taken regularly, the body can become dependent on laxatives in order to produce a bowel movement. Psychologically, the mind can become fixated on the feeling of lightness and emptiness that follows elimination. With long-term use, the body can “forget” how to function normally. Rectal muscles weaken and lose sensitivity.

Laxatives and Bulimia

Some people use laxatives to lose weight – fixated on ridding the body of waste and water to see the scale drop even a little  –  dehydrating the body and shutting down the natural elimination process. Eventually, the body can no longer eliminate solid waste on its own. When constipation becomes chronic, even more laxatives are needed to relieve discomfort or lose weight, and the cycle perpetuates itself.

Long-Term Effects of Laxative Abuse and Bulimia

Bulimia is often coupled with co-occurring depression, anxiety, trauma, or other mental health issues. Laxative abuse is dangerous, and can cause serious physical complications such as severe dehydration, liver and kidney damage, electrolyte and mineral imbalances, bloody stools, dizziness, rectal bleeding, stomach cramps, colon infection, fatigue, chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased bowel function. It can increase the risk of colon cancer and lead to stroke, heart attack, organ failure, and death.

Treatment for Laxative Abuse and Bulimia

Treatment for bulimia and other eating disorders is available and effective. Clients work closely with medical and dietary professionals to gently taper off laxatives, restore the natural digestive functions. Clients work closely with therapists and other mental health professionals to address disordered eating, self-esteem, substance abuse, trauma, and other issues. It is possible to restore your health after eating disorders –  to heal physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Haven Hills Recovery – Trauma Informed Care for Women