Should I Drink Alcohol While Trying to Quit Binge Eating?

     I’ve had a few people ask me about consuming alcohol while recovering from bulimia/BED, so I want to address that topic briefly here…
     To resist urges to binge, you have to rely on the capability of your prefrontal cortex to inhibit urges from your lower brain. Since alcohol directly affects the prefrontal cortex and can reduce someone’s ability to make sound decisions, does this mean everyone trying to quit binge eating should completely abstain from alcohol?  Not necessarily, but I think it’s an important decision that each individual needs to make; and I hope some information in this post will help you make that decision.  
     I personally did not change my alcohol consumption when I first quit binge eating. I had an occasional drink – a beer or glass of wine, sometimes two – a couple times a month.  Since it only took a few months for my binge urges to decrease significantly, this only afforded me maybe 6  times to experience the effects of alcohol on my binge urges and ability to resist them.  Looking back, I do not specifically remember any marked increase in my binge urges under the influence of alcohol or having more difficulty avoiding acting on those urges.  This is not to say that I think drinking alcohol is risk-free when it comes to recovery from binge eating.  
     When I was bulimic, drinking was indeed one of my binge “triggers.” I remember that disinhibitory feeling of temporarily not caring after having a couple drinks, and not bothering to fight the binge urges. Binge eating under the influence of alcohol took on more of a hazy quality, rather than a voracious one, and it always ended with less regret (until morning, where there was the effects of both the food and the alcohol to contend with).  
     After I stopped binge eating, I was able to avoid that “I don’t care” mindset  that often gets drunk people to do things they regret.  This could be simply because I didn’t drink very much after I quit. Not having a lot to drink wasn’t something I resolved to do to help recovery- I just wasn’t into drinking very much. There were occasions in college (prior to quitting binge eating) when I would have more than a couple drinks, and it’s very possible that doing that while trying to recover might have ended in binge eating. There is no way to know, but I’d like to think that binge eating was so “off limits” in my mind that I still would have been able to say no.
     For those who drink a little more often and in greater quantities than I did when I quit binge eating; here is some information to help you decide whether it’s wise to continue doing that while also trying to resist binge urges.  
  • Alcohol does affect the prefrontal cortex and its ability to inhibit behaviors; and with each drink, the prefrontal cortex is impaired a little more.  For some, this may result in less of a desire to resist binge urges, and more of an “I don’t care about recovery” attitude.  It could also make you feel like you have less control of your voluntary muscle movements – many of which are involved in eating.


  • Alcohol has the opposite affect on the lower brain. Instead of impairing it; drinking causes a release in dopamine, which arouses pleasure/reward circuitry in the lower brain. For some, this could mean an increase in urges to binge; but not necessarily (it could simply be pleasurable in its own right, without triggering a desire for the temporary ‘pleasure’ of binge eating).      


   Given these effects (impairment of the prefrontal cortex, and arousal of the pleasure/reward circuits in lower brain regions), you can see why drinking can be risky, and for some, might be best avoided.  However, even with altered consciousness, I believe it is still possible to say no to binge eating. Everyone has lines they don’t cross even when they are drunk (examples:  driving a car, leaving a bar with a stranger…etc). I’m sure you can think of some outrageous behavior that you can trust yourself not to do, even when you’ve had a lot to drink. If you choose to continue to drink while recovering from bulimia/BED, then binge eating has to become one of those outrageous things that you would never do, regardless of how many drinks you’ve had. It has to be something you view as “not an option,” ever; and even in a hazy state, you have to say no.   
     If you don’t feel capable of doing that while drinking, then I would suggest stopping alcohol altogether until you feel you can.  Or, just stick to a very small amount.  
*I am of course talking about drinking moderately/normally in this post.  I would never recommend the over-consumption of alcohol – to a binge eater or a non-binge eater.  This post is not for people who feel they have a drinking problem.    



5 thoughts on “Should I Drink Alcohol While Trying to Quit Binge Eating?

  1. Dear Kathryn, I hope your book helps a lot of people because dealing with bulimia and other eating disorders is such a difficult and painful way to live. Thanks for writing it. I am writing to comment on what you are saying about therapeutic approaches requiring that emotional issues be “resolved” for recovery to take place, as in the following excerpt from your blog on eliminating foods: “What I liked best about this book was how Gillian Riley drove home the idea that we all have free choice about what and how we eat, and everyone is capable of achieving freedom and peace with food – without solving emotional problems first.” As an eating disorder professional, I think it is a mistake in the field to think that emotional problems need to be resolved – a mistake many of us make. What seems to help people recover is not a radical resolution of major emotional issues, but an attitude of acceptance of the emotions. Being interested in them and willing to feel them. Integrating them into consciousness. It’s a willingness to stop rejecting the feelings that happen. Full resolution of them would delay or halt ED recovery, and it sounds like that is what happened to you. But the simple act of no longer aligning with rejection is, in my experience, required for recovery to go all the way forward.

    1. Hi Sheira,
      I apologize my response time is so slow right now. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I know more professionals like you in the field could do a world of good. I think different approaches resonate with different people, but for me, connecting my binge eating to my emotions at all wasn’t helpful. I had to completely separate my habit from my emotions and my ability to manage/accept/overcome them, which explains my perspective here. I appreciate you taking the time to share your insights!

  2. I haven’t read your book, I just now found this blog. But I wanted to comment.
    I binge eat like day or two in every week, sometimes I stuck in binge cycle for weeks. But now about alcohol. I know, for many people it can cause binge, but I’m opposite. When I drink(very rarely, because I’m not party girl and never drink alone, so…), so, when I drink, my apetite is absolutely gone. I can’t eat when drink. Sometimes I binge in next day, if it has been lot of alcohol or I’m tired, so I feel bad, and I binge, when I feel bad. But never while drinking. Am I weird?

    1. Of course not! I think an important thing to remember is that no one’s binge patterns are the same. Also, alcohol affects everyone in different ways so that for one person it might ignite binge urges; but in others, it may be a distraction that prevents them from arising. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Hi Kathryn, just to say thankyou so so much for your brilliant book, i started it on the Monday finished it on the Tuesday, and amazingly stopped binging on the Wednesday. Only been a week but I’ve real hope this time, your understanding reminded me of an English author called Allan Carr, he helped me stop smoking in 1992, unfortunately i was also smoking cannabis and had other drug and a serious Alcohol problem, but with a fight for my life i managed to kill my addictions apart from the big one, food, oh dear I’ve struggled for 10 years and have read 21 books on the subject, the above mentioned Gillian Riley, Paul Mckenna, etc, ( Jason Vale very helpful) but alas never resolved my food problem of serious binge eating, anyway i really love your book im starting it again, i wish you well, you are a God send, cheers, Billy from Bonny Scotland.

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