Similar Behaviors Found in Women with Food and Substance Issues

Women with substance use issues are more likely to also struggle with eating issues than women without substance issues, and similarly, women with eating issues are at increased risk for substance use problems. In both these groups of women, a common risk factor is impulsivity. “Recent research has identified that negative urgency, the tendency to act rashly in response to negative affect, is a contributor to distress-driven rash or impulsive action,” said Sarah Fischer of the University of Georgia and lead author of a study exploring the link between impulsivity and these mental health issues. “There is both theoretical and empirical support for the hypothesis that negative urgency is an important risk factor for both alcohol problems and eating disorders. Indeed, researchers have proposed that both alcohol abuse and binge eating/purging serve emotion regulation functions by distracting individuals from stress or negative affect. Similarly, negative urgency is also consistently associated with problem drinking or symptoms of alcohol abuse in clinical, community, college student, and child samples.”

Fischer and her colleagues evaluated 104 women who were enrolled in treatment programs for substance use or food problems. They discovered that the women with a substance use, food or depression issue, exhibited higher levels of negative urgency than the group with no mental health problems. They added that when they examined a sampling of fifth-grade girls for the same traits, the findings were strikingly similar.  They added, “Girls who tend to act rashly when distressed and girls who tend to act without forethought were more likely to have consumed a full drink of alcohol or engaged in binge eating while still in elementary school.” The team concluded, “This finding is consistent with our theory that the trait of negative urgency contributes to the comorbidity of alcohol problems and eating disorders in women, and is also consistent with research indicating that both heavy drinking and binge eating often occur during negative mood states.”

Fischer, S., Settles, R., Collins, B., Gunn, R., & Smith, G. T. (2011, May 23). The Role of Negative Urgency and Expectancies in Problem Drinking and Disordered Eating: Testing a Model of Comorbidity in Pathological and At-Risk Samples. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023460

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Shane Gibson

    Shane Gibson

    September 29th, 2011 at 11:14 PM

    Lack of self control is what triggers both these things..Someone with even a little bit of self control would stop and think.But to go all out without any forethought speaks of the person’s problems with controlling the self.

  • Rhea


    September 30th, 2011 at 4:14 AM

    I can see how these things go hand in hand. The behavior may be a little different in that there are different drugs of choices, but it is an addictive behavior nonetheless and they are committed for the wrong reasons. Most people who are addicted to something it is not about the substance per se, but rather an attempt to hide from something else. Both drugs and food are awfully good at doing that very thing for some people. The key now is that we know that the behaviors are similar so when one treatment method works in one realm we should then know that it is going to be worth trying that in another.

  • eliza


    September 30th, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    Well maybe I have eating issues and I tend to overest. But that does not mean I’m more susceptible to doing drugs,right?I mean even if impulsivity may seem like a common handle here,someone who eats too much unconsciously cannot be said to be more vulnerable to drugs just for that!

  • Jaclyn


    September 30th, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    @Shane- I think that it is a little more than an issue of self control. This is about a real addiction and obviously this is something that you have never had to deal with or you would not be so shallow and callous about it. You are lucky, but many others are not. This is about having needs that are not being met and trying to find a way to get that fulfillment.

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