A new study that was reported in the New York Times this week suggested that the same genes that cause alcoholism also cause eating disorders. This claim is based on work coming out of the Washington University School of Medicine by Melissa Munn Chernoff. It has been suggested that people with certain genes will engage in these activities as a type of compensatory behaviour.
The team at Washington University School of Medicine looked at 6000 adult twins (both identical twins and fraternal twins) living in Australia. They examined their eating habits as well as their drinking habits. The data showed that up to 53% of the alcoholic and binge eating behaviour could be put down to genetics. The study also found that in these cases the sharing of these two behaviours could be traced back to the same gene.
The results from this study do fit in with what is already known about these two conditions. It is fairly common for people who are alcoholic to also engage in binge eating. The fact that it might be a gene causing this behaviour does make sense. It also reinforces the idea that people who are addicted to alcohol are at risk of other types of addiction too. It is important to keep in mind that just because a person has this gene does not mean that they have to put up with either condition.
It is a well-known phenomenon for people who have given up alcohol to turn to food. This type of comfort eating can have serious health consequences if it is continued long term. The news that many alcoholics may be predisposed to eating disorders only emphasise the risk of this type of behaviour. When people first give up alcohol, it has been traditional to treat overindulgence in food with leniency. It is much better for people to be temporarily eating more than for them to be abusing alcohol. The problem is that if this behaviour is allowed to continue, it could lead to some serious problems.
The eating disorder that people recovering from an addiction are likely to engage in is binge eating. This is where the person eats an excessive amount of food in a short time period. It is also sometimes referred to as comfort eating because the person is eating to escape their feelings. People in recovery who fall into the trap of binge eating will usually be doing so in order to escape the challenges they need to face in order to progress.
Other types of eating disorder include bulimia and anorexia. Bulimia is a very serious condition; individuals eat large quantities of food and then deliberately make themselves sick afterwards or take laxatives to purge the food. Anorexia is a condition where the individual deliberately starves him or herself, losing so much weight that it becomes life threatening. With both of these conditions, the person is obsessed with their body weight and shape, felling that they have to take extreme action to change it.
Food disorders and alcoholism can lead to a great deal of suffering, and both are life-threatening conditions. The fact that there may now be a gene linking the two behaviours means that it is important for those dealing with one condition to be aware of the other. It would be a real shame for people to go to all the trouble of breaking away from alcoholism or food addiction only for them to then find themselves dealing with a new addiction.