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Young binge eaters more likely to abuse drugs, study shows

Young people who binge eat or overeat are more likely to abuse illicit drugs, according to a new study published online Dec. 10 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

A binge eater is defined as a person who eats more than they normally would during a short period of time and can't control how much they eat. They can consume 5,000 to 15,000 calories in one sitting, and often snack in addition to eating three meals in a day. People who binge eat are at risk of being overweight and may also suffer from the eating disorder bulimia.

Overeating on the other hand refers to when a person consumes too much but is capable of controlling food intake.

For the study, researchers looked at 16,882 boys and girls between the ages of 9 to 15 years old in 1996. They were all part of the ongoing Growing Up Today Study. Every 12 to 24 months between 1996 and 2005, the children were surveyed about their overeating and binge eating habits. The questionnaires also asked about use of drugs including marijuana, hashish, cocaine, crack, heroin, ecstasy, PCP, GHB, LSD, psychedelic mushrooms, ketamine, crystal meth, amphetamines and prescription drugs.

Girls were more likely to binge eat than boys, with 2.3 to 3.1 percent of female participants reporting this behavior. Only 0.3 percent to 1 percent of males reported binge eating.

Those who admitted to overeating or binge eating were 1.59 to 1.89 times more likely to abuse drugs. Binge eaters -- not overeaters -- were also 1.73 times more likely to be overweight or obese and 2.19 times more likely to show depressive symptoms.

"In summary, we found that binge eating, but not overeating, predicted the onset of overweight/obesity and worsening depressive symptoms. We further observed that any overeating, with or without LOC [loss of control], predicted the onset of marijuana and other drug use," the authors wrote.

Neither overeaters or binge eaters were more likely to be binge drinkers, but throughout the duration of the study, about 60 percent of the children reported binge drinking.

"The fact that we didn't see an association between binge eating and the onset of frequent binge drinking may have something to do with the fact that this behavior is so normative among teens," Kendrin Sonneville, a registered dietician in the division of adolescent/young adult medicine at Children's Hospital Boston who was involved in the study, told HealthDay.

Registered dietician Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas who was not involved with the study, added to HealthDay that people don't often connect eating and abusing food as a sign that the person may have emotional problems. She often observes this situation in bariatric sugary patients, who despite having the weight-loss procedure, can't stop eating because food is their "drug" of choice. They also often turn to alcohol after the surgery because it is easier to consume than food.

"They may be engaging in binge eating for a way to somehow improve their mood or ... cover up negative emotions," she said of the study participants. "That may be the same reason they also then turn to marijuana or some other drug."

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