Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder affects about 9.4 million Americans, making it the most common eating disorder in the United States. While the disorder can lead to physical and psychological complications, it can be effectively treated through rehab.
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Binge-eating disorder is a serious illness that involves frequently consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time. People with the disorder binge eat at least once a week for three months, and they usually consume 5,000 to 15,000 calories in one sitting. Those with binge-eating disorder cannot control their eating behaviors and often binge to the point of discomfort. Recurrent binge eating can cause significant distress and feelings of shame. “With binge-eating disorder, there’s usually intense amounts of guilt, shame and embarrassment about the binge eating,” Christina Purkiss, a certified eating disorder specialist at White Picket Fence Counseling Center, told “Usually these individuals are binge eating in secret because they’re so intensely ashamed of the behaviors.” The disorder can cause a number of physical and mental health problems, including obesity, anxiety, depression and addiction. Nearly 50 percent of people who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder regularly abuse drugs and alcohol, according to research by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Some people with untreated binge-eating disorder drink or use drugs to cope with the psychological distress the disorder causes. This form of self-medication can progress to addiction, which commonly occurs alongside binge-eating disorder. Specialized treatment can help people regain control of their eating habits and overcome binge-eating disorder. Seeking help from a qualified treatment center that specializes in eating disorders increases your likelihood of recovery.
“With binge-eating disorder, there’s usually intense amounts of guilt, shame and embarrassment about the binge eating.”
Christina Purkiss
Treatment programs provide therapy and medications to address the underlying psychological issues that drive binge-eating disorder and to help people reduce the frequency of binges. The programs may also include support group meetings and nutrition therapy.

Binge-Eating Disorder and Substance Abuse

Researchers have identified a relationship between binge-eating disorder and addiction, a chronic disease that causes compulsive drug use despite serious health, social and legal consequences. A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions reported that approximately 25 percent of people with binge-eating disorder have struggled with a substance use disorder in their lifetime. About 3 percent of those with the disorder have a current addiction to drugs or alcohol. According to the study, addiction and binge-eating disorder share similar characteristics, including a strong desire to partake in binging behaviors that cause impairment and distress. In addition, researchers have found that addiction and binge-eating disorder arise from similar abnormalities in brain chemistry. Both disorders involve reduced activity in areas of the brain associated with self-control.

About 9.4 million Americans suffer from binge-eating disorder.

People may develop an addiction if they regularly use drugs or alcohol to cope with the challenges of their eating disorder. For some, substance abuse temporarily alleviates the guilt, shame and self-loathing associated with binge eating. But over the long term, self-medication with addictive substances can create additional health risks and delay treatment for a potentially life-threatening eating disorder. Although eating disorders usually develop before addiction in people with a dual diagnosis, addiction can also occur before binge-eating disorder. Women recovering from a substance use disorder may develop a binge-eating disorder while adapting to sobriety, according to an article published by the Binge Eating Disorder Association. When the brain becomes dependent on alcohol or another drug, ceasing its use can cause stress and depression, which are risk factors for binge-eating disorder. A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that people suffering from alcohol addiction may be more genetically vulnerable to developing certain eating disorders than those without the disease. The study’s lead author said some genes that influence alcoholism in men and women also influence binge eating.

Who Is at Risk for Binge-Eating Disorder?

Binge-eating disorder affects more adults than anorexia and bulimia combined. Purkiss said about 9.4 million Americans suffer from the disease, making it the most common eating disorder. About 3.5 percent of adult women and 2 percent of adult men have binge-eating disorder, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Women with the disorder generally develop it between ages 18 and 29.
Research shows that people of all ages and many backgrounds experience binge-eating disorder:
  • Girls and women who frequently diet are 12 times more likely to binge eat than girls and women who do not diet, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
  • Binge-eating disorder most commonly affects young and middle-aged women, but older women are developing eating disorders more often.
  • Men with the disorder generally develop it between ages 45 and 59.
  • The disorder affects about 1.6 percent of adolescents.
Binge-eating disorder is common among people who have a history of weight gains and losses. Those with the disorder have more problems losing and maintaining weight than people with other significant weight complications. A person’s genetics can influence his or her chances of developing binge-eating disorder. Individuals with parents or siblings who have had eating disorders are more likely to develop one than those without a family history of eating disorders. A 2016 study by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found a link between binge eating and a gene called CYFIP2. People with this gene are at a greater risk for engaging in binge eating.

Signs and Symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder

Although binge-eating disorder is prevalent in the United States, it can be difficult to recognize when someone has the disease. Many people with the disorder experience feelings of guilt and shame that cause them to hide their eating behaviors.
Some signs of binge-eating disorder include:
  • Dieting regularly with or without weight loss
  • Eating large amounts of food rapidly
  • Eating secretly
  • Feeling unable to control eating
  • Eating in isolation frequently
People with binge-eating disorder often harbor a host of negative feelings, and research shows that they struggle to manage their emotions. People often engage in binge eating while sad, stressed, angry or bored.

How Binge-Eating Disorder Differs from Bulimia

Binge-eating disorder and bulimia share certain characteristics. People with the disorders eat large amounts of food in a short period of time. Both disorders also can occur alongside depression, anxiety disorder and substance use disorder. But unlike people with bulimia, those with binge-eating disorder do not engage in compensatory behaviors, such as vomiting, using laxatives or exercising excessively, after binges. Additionally, individuals with binge-eating disorder are often overweight or obese, while people with bulimia usually are normal weight or slightly overweight.

Heart Disease, Obesity and Other Consequences of Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder can cause serious physical and psychological harm, and the frequency of binging contributes to the severity of binge-eating disorder. People who binge eat multiple times per week are more likely than those who binge once per week to develop serious health problems. Many health complications related to binge-eating disorder stem from obesity.
Consequences of obesity among those with binge-eating disorder include:
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Menstrual problems
  • Several types of cancer
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive problems
  • Joint and muscle pain
People with binge-eating disorder commonly have other mental health problems. Obese people with the disease are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction and social withdrawal. A 2014 study published in Current Obesity Reports stated that binge-eating disorder, night eating syndrome and major depression are the most common mental health problems associated with obesity. The authors concluded that weight-loss surgery can have favorable outcomes for obese patients with those conditions. These patients generally succeed at losing weight and experience improvements in mood and quality of life.

Pregnancy Complications from Binge-Eating Disorder

Women with binge-eating disorder may have problems getting pregnant, or they may face complications during pregnancy. Some women with the disease have obesity, a condition that increases estrogen levels in the body. Higher levels of estrogen can prevent ovulation, making it more difficult to get pregnant. Being overweight during pregnancy can also result in high blood pressure or diabetes, which can cause complications to the mother or baby. Occasionally, pregnancy can trigger binge-eating disorder. In a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, nearly 50 percent of more than 45,000 women with binge-eating disorder developed the disease during pregnancy. Researchers believed that depression, a history of alcohol abuse and smoking, stress and a lack of social support contributed to binge eating during pregnancy.
Seeking help for binge-eating disorder?We have programs designed specifically for you.

Treatment Options for Binge-Eating Disorder

A combination of psychotherapy and medications can help you recover from binge-eating disorder, and a number of rehab centers in the United States specialize in treating the disease. Medical professionals at these centers strive to help clients reduce eating binges, achieve a healthy weight and overcome psychological problems associated with the disorder.

Behavioral Therapies

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help people cope with problems that trigger eating binges, such as depressed mood and negative body image. CBT is a common therapy that helps people with binge-eating disorder learn to identify, understand and better manage their eating patterns. Dialectical behavior therapy is another popular psychotherapy used to treat binge-eating disorder. This approach aims to reduce the desire to binge eat by teaching people skills to manage emotions, improve relationships and cope with stress. Sometimes poor relationships with others may trigger binge-eating episodes. Interpersonal psychotherapy is an approach that assists people in improving their interpersonal skills, which could reduce the risk of eating binges.


Medication-assisted treatment can help people overcome binge-eating disorder. Vyvanse is the only medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat moderate or severe binge-eating disorder in adults. The drug is a stimulant that commonly is used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. According to a 2015 FDA report announcing the approval of Vyvanse for the treatment of binge-eating disorder, the efficacy of the medication was examined in two clinical studies. Upon taking Vyvanse, participants experienced fewer days binge eating per week. These individuals also had fewer obsessive-compulsive binge-eating behaviors when compared to those taking a placebo. Other medications may alleviate symptoms of binge-eating disorder. Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors may help reduce binge eating by acting on brain chemicals related to mood. Topamax, a seizure medication, also has shown to decrease eating binges.

Neurostimulation: A Novel Treatment for Binge-Eating Disorder

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that binge-eating disorder can be treated with transcranial direct-current stimulation, a type of neurostimulation that targets specific areas of the brain with constant, low-current electricity. Transcranial direct-current stimulation has been used to treat several health disorders, including depression, autism and Parkinson’s disease. The researchers tested this treatment approach on 30 adults with symptoms of binge-eating disorder. First, they placed electrodes on the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with decreased ability to regulate emotions. Participants then received transcranial direct-current stimulation for 20 minutes. During the first session, researchers asked participants to eat some food three hours before the visit but to refrain from eating or drinking anything but water prior to the treatment. At the start of each visit, researchers measured each participant’s body mass index and asked them a series of questions. Afterward, they were left alone for 20 minutes to consume as many M&M’s, mini Oreos and potato chips as they wanted. They were then taught how to complete and turn in a binge-eating survey to be taken at home for five days. Participants took a food craving test before and after each treatment. The same procedure occurred during the second visit, except participants did not receive electrical stimulation after being connected to the device. This session served as a control for potential placebo effects. On the third visit, participants ranked their preference for the foods offered during the eating test from the first two days. The results showed that transcranial direct-current stimulation decreased food intake and cravings among men and women, with the strongest reductions occurring in men. Researchers concluded that the approach was a safe and effective treatment method for binge-eating disorder. They believe that it could be used alongside CBT to shorten treatment and reduce relapse rates.

Weight-Loss Programs

When done under medical supervision, behavioral weight-loss programs can help people meet their daily nutritional requirements. Weight-loss programs that address binge-eating triggers are particularly effective when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy. However, weight-loss programs generally are not recommended until the disorder is treated because dieting programs can result in more eating binges. This can exacerbate the disorder and prolong treatment.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Matt Gonzales
Content Writer,
Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He graduated with a degree in journalism from East Carolina University and began his professional writing career in 2011. Matt covers the latest drug trends and shares inspirational stories of people who have overcome addiction. Certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in health literacy, Matt leverages his experience in addiction research to provide hope to those struggling with substance use disorders.
Kim Borwick, MA
Featured Expert
Christina Purkiss
Certified Eating Disorders Specialist, White Picket Fence Counseling Center

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