Media Monday: Alcholism, Eating Disorders & their Genetic Link

Christine Hanwick

15 years ago when I was in need of treatment for alcoholism, I was turned away by a treatment center because I was told that my eating disorder might be “contagious.”

But today, more and more treatment centers are treating dual diagnosis such as alcoholism and eating disorders. And today we now know that alcoholism and eating disorders are caused not only by the environment, but by genetics as well. But what’s new and perhaps more intriguing, is that according to an article on, a recent study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has shown that alcoholism and eating disorders “may be controlled by the same genes, making people with one condition more susceptible to the other.” In other words, people who are at risk for alcoholism are also at risk for eating disorders, and visa versa.

Before this study, according to an article on, The National Eating Disorders Association had shown that “nearly half of all individuals with an eating disorder are also abusing drugs or alcohol” (a rate five times that of the general population). And this had been the first study that had “looked for a genetic link between the disorders” – that also included men. (Check out this article by a male comedian who recently opened up about his alcoholism and eating disorder).

So what does this new information mean? Well, for one, an eating disorder is not contagious. But more importantly, having a scientific study that has shown alcoholism and eating disorders to genetically co-exist – not just a correlational study – will help to make the connection more credible. In turn, perhaps more doctors, mental health practitioners, families, and individuals will become more aware of the reality of dual disorders. And hopefully this knowledge will help the individual who is suffering to get treatment sooner. Melissa Munn-Chernoff, the author of the study, said in an article in that if more centers were aware of the connection between eating disorders and alcoholism, “that would be a big help.” Because “if we can better understand the risk factors, we can better understand how to treat these disorders.” 

Take action: Post one of the articles below – let people know that alcoholism and eating disorders may share common genes.


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