A Dangerous Mix: Anorexia and Alcohol Abuse

December 17, 2011 Angela E. Gambrel

I haven't been sober more than a few days each month since October. I have only eaten a handful of what would be considered real meals in several months.

I consume more calories in alcohol than food, and simply admitting that has to be one of the hardest things I have ever done.woman_drinking_lI promised myself I would always be open and honest when I started writing Surviving ED last fall. I felt that was the only way to establish credibility with HealthyPlace readers and to truly help those struggling with eating disorders.

But I didn't have any idea what the year held, and several of the things I have written about have been both personal and painful. I have wrote about how anorexia basically destroyed my marriage, and how my husband and I permanently separated in September. I have written about both my triumphs, such as when I reached my goal weight in January, and my ongoing struggles with restrictive eating and anxiety when my husband and I attempted reconciliation this past spring and fall, and my weight again began to drop.

And I wrote about how my abuse of alcohol started soon after our separation. It started out as a way to relax, to ease the tensions and anxieties I was feeling both from the separation and my work in graduate school.

No one sets out to develop an eating disorder. I remember restricting my eating more and more, and at some point in during the 2007-2008 year, I crossed the line from restrictive eater to someone with anorexia nervosa. I soon became addicted to both the high of restricting food and becoming thinner. It felt great, and I didn't care what anyone else thought.

It is the same with alcohol abuse. I didn't plan to mix restrictive eating with drinking alcohol, but once I discovered it could help me cope and feel better about myself, I crossed an invisible line from being someone who had the occasional glass of wine to someone who can't imagine a day without a few drinks and little food.cropped-addictionThat is the nature of addiction and addictive behaviors. At some point, you get caught and then you find yourself sitting inside a psychiatrist's office trying to explain why you think starving yourself is a good idea. Or why drinking "just a few glasses" of wine is okay. Or why doing both together is not going to kill you, and since you feel your best after a few glasses of wine, why not?

I know that I am not the only one who has struggled with anorexia or another eating disorder, and alcohol abuse. Kendra Sebelius, author of HealthyPlace's Debunking Addiction, covered in-depth the connection between eating disorders and substance abuse. I will leave the statistics and analysis to her, since she did such a wonderful job.

I would like to discuss how restrictive eating and drinking has personally impacted me, and perhaps some readers might see themselves within my words. I half-heartedly joked in an October blog post that I knew having a glass of wine at 9:30 a.m. was not a good idea.

I didn't realize then that would become my regular practice. Get up in the morning, start the coffee, get ready for the day and then pour myself a glass of wine. Sit down and work on my graduate school work until I had too much wine and could no longer focus, and finally passing out on the couch. Repeat every day with few exceptions.

I thought that I was still handling things well. After all, I was attending class and turning in my assignments and was considered a very good student who added a lot to the class.

Then one day I realized I had not even started an assignment due that day. I e-mailed my professor in a panic, and he granted me (and in fairness to myself, many other students) an extension. But the fact that I needed an extension solely because I was too drunk to understand and complete the assignment troubles me. I finished the class with a perfect grade, bringing my total GPA to 3.9.

But I tell myself not to be cocky. I still have to write my thesis, and I have to be both sober and reasonably well fed to be able to research and write a 150-plus paper that is the culmination of my studies. I can still fail, and alcohol and restrictive eating can still both make things more difficult and could harm me.

Then there is how excessive drinking makes you feel. I feel great at first, but when the high wears off and it is all gone, I just feel empty and sad and very, very tired. I am now reaching out for help, as I realize I can't handle this alone. I started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings last week. I also talk with my eating disorders psychiatrist about it and how the drinking impacts my eating, since the two are intertwined because I eat less when I drink because of fear of the calories.

I still feel uncomfortable revealing such personal information in public. But if it can stop one person — you — from picking up a glass of wine or some other alcohol, and mixing it with restrictive eating, it will be worth it.

I feel the tide turning as more people understand eating disorders and alcohol abuse, and that it can be very dangerous both body and soul.

Find me on Twitter and Facebook.

APA Reference
Gambrel, A. (2011, December 17). A Dangerous Mix: Anorexia and Alcohol Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Author: Angela E. Gambrel

October, 12 2018 at 6:08 am

OMG, I could be you! I can go for days at a time purely on alcohol and a few tiny snack bites, i try to stop drinking but I can't. I am underweight but not enough for people to be to concerned about.

December, 23 2018 at 2:08 pm

Hi there, Lake. Even if you don't think you are noticeably underweight, this is still a dangerous pattern of behavior you are experimenting with. I hope you recognize that it's probably time to seek out a trusted form of help or support because you are depriving your body of essential nutrients it needs to function and keep you alive. If you are not ready to talk to a therapist, dietician, family member or friend, then I highly recommend visiting the HealthyPlace Eating Disorder Community page ( It has reliable information and resources that can point you toward the healing you need in order to reclaim a free and abundant life that isn't restricted by ED.

October, 2 2014 at 9:26 am

Please help me... your opening paragraph is me.. and I'm frightened.. please. I've tried to hint to people.. I can't seem to fight it... please help me...please..I'm emma... people wouldn't know.. they think I'm funny kind a good single mum.. well respected... I'm dying inside and I'm scared and lonely x

July, 24 2013 at 1:07 pm

I turn 45 this Aug 1st. My last hospitalization for AN was 5 years ago. I never really entered a good "recovery" process during the 3 months I spent inpatient but, insurance limitations and lack of funds said it was time to go. I do still see my therapist (a true lifeline for me) and I have a good family/friends support network. Thankfully.
By sharing your experience with mixing alcohol and restricting, you have forced me to face my own behavior. What you wrote is really my own experience in a nutshell. I struggle with it even today. I am so focused on the AN behaviors that it honestly never even registered with me that I should actually get help for the drinking part. How odd. I will bring it up in my next session and see where it takes me from there.
Thank you!

Angela E. Gambrel
December, 24 2011 at 8:03 am

I pray that your daughter is able to get the help she needs. Drinking and eating disorders are a dangerous mix.
Thank you for your kind words. I am going into inpatient on Monday to detox and eat regular meals. I plan to win the fight against both anorexia and alcohols abuse ... It's just a matter of finding the courage to fight!
I will keep your daughter in my prayers. ♥

Marilyn Knox
December, 22 2011 at 1:24 pm

I am the mother of an adult daughter that has fought some type of ED for over 20 yrs. She has been in house treatment and seems to have her ED almost under control again, however she too is drinking. I don't live with her so the extent I am not sure but I am glad that you are seeking help. The hard part is not getting in treatment but staying on program and I wish you all the love and success you need to fight this terrible disease.

Tara Mackey
December, 17 2011 at 10:12 am

you are always so real. You know I have struggeled with both (still do) and the damage it has done, Im so glad you have reached out for help, you deserve to feel like, not just what the addictions let you feel, your a survivior and I have full faith that you will absolutely recover?
much love xx

Robin Ortiz
December, 16 2011 at 8:47 pm

I love you angela!!! you have a lot of love from your friends, and most importantly, from Jesus. Its all covered under the blood. there is nothing that you have done in your lifetime, that is unforgiveable. i know its cliche as hell, but admitting it is the first step. I know that as your friend, I have and had been very concerned about your drinking, but didn't know how to approach you about it. I am glad you are taking steps to address it. you are a beloved child of God, don't EVER forget that dear heart!!!

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