Dying to Be Thin: 7 Shocking Facts About Teen Laxative Abuse

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The Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health found that 78 percent...

The Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health found that 78 percent of women within healthy weight range reported being unhappy with their number. Too often, this dissatisfaction leads to eating disorders. We hear about these fairly frequently, especially when a celebrity is battling one. What we don’t often hear about is the laxative abuse involved.

This method is used by many teens struggling with eating disorders. Unfortunately, its use is more common than knowledge about its effects. Here are some of the most important facts that you need to know about teen laxative abuse.


1. Laxative abuse does not cause weight loss

Laxatives do not push food through the body quickly to avoid calorie intake or weight gain. Laxatives are designed to relieve constipation. They induce bowel movements and affect the large intestine. By the time food gets here, it has already been digested. What remains contains little food, fat or calories. They do not help a person lose weight.

What laxatives do cause to leave the body are the water, minerals and electrolytes that our body needs to survive. Any resulting “weight loss” is actually temporary water weight due to this loss of essential fluids. These pounds are put right back on within 48 hours once the person rehydrates. If fluids aren’t replaced, dehydration occurs and this can be lethal.

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2. Concerning Statistics

The fact that it doesn’t actually help with weight loss has not made laxative abuse less prevalent. One study revealed 56.3 percent of those with eating disorders used laxatives. Of those suffering with purging anorexia nervosa, 71.6 percent used laxatives.

These stats are effecting women at a young age. The onset of anorexia usually occurs during adolescence at around age 17, and the onset of bulimia nervosa typically occurs between 16 and 18 years of age. In fact, eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness in young females.

3. A Host of Horrific Side Effects

When laxatives are abused, the body is deprived of the minerals and electrolytes it needs for proper functioning of the nerves and muscles. These include sodium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. Without these, vital organs are affected and potentially damaged. This nutrient deprivation can even lead to death. Other consequences include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea – Repeated use can cause a person to lose control of the rectum
  • Dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle spasms
  • Heart arrhythmia and Heart attack
  • Intestinal paralysis
  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Kidney failure
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Increased risk of colon cancer…

4. Don’t Forget About Depression

Abusing laxatives taxes the body physically and the resulting effects can cause psychological harm as well. Changes in our electrolyte levels influence our brain functioning and mood. As laxative abuse depletes our body of electrolytes, we may become depressed. This struggle with addiction can also make us feel helpless or feel like a failure if we don’t believe we can change our behavior. The result is a downward spiral into depression.

5. Laxatives are used for self-punishment

While weight loss may appear to be the goal of laxative abuse, researchers have found this is often only the surface issue. They report that it is also used as a method for self-punishment. Laxative abuse is one of the more physically self-abusive forms of purging and teens may choose it for its self-harm.

The psychology behind this may involve a desire to decrease the fear of weight gain and simultaneously allow the teen to focus on the pain and consequences of the abuse instead of their weight.

This is an important concept for those providing treatment. If self-punishment and anxiety management are driving the abuse, treatment should not focus on the ineffectiveness of laxative use for weight loss, but instead treat the other issues involved.

6. Laxatives are abused to create emptiness

Teens abusing laxatives are often not in search of the physical emptiness it offers. While it does empty the bowels, it can also offer a sense of emotional emptiness. Teens feel a sense of psychological calm or emotional purging with the effects. They seek this “emptying” through laxative abuse and achieve a sense of purification with the process.

7. The cycle of abuse can be stopped – with help

Long-term laxative abuse, like any addiction, is difficult to break. The body may need to be weaned from the laxatives. A balance of essential nutrients and normal functioning must be restored. Due to the physical effects involved, it is helpful to enlist the support of a doctor or other health professionals.

Emotional support is also key. Support groups, friends, a counselor and a dietitian are great resources for those struggling with laxative abuse.


Image Source: iStock

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