Research shows that 8.1% of people with anorexia and 2.7% of those with bulimia abuse or are dependent upon appetite-reducing amphetamines. 

Article at a Glance:

Amphetamine use is not uncommon among people with eating disorders. Keep the following key points in mind when considering the relationship between amphetamines and eating disorders:

Amphetamine use is more common among people with anorexia nervosa than those with bulimia nervosa

Amphetamines are the most frequently abused substance among those with anorexia

Amphetamine addiction can develop either prior to or after the onset of an eating disorder

Amphetamine side effects include decreased appetite and weight loss, so individuals with eating disorders may use these drugs to control weight

Methamphetamine is an illicit drug that people with eating disorders may abuse to induce weight loss, but they may also become dependent upon prescription amphetamines, such as Adderall or Concerta

Those who experience co-occurring eating disorders and addiction to amphetamines will require treatment that addresses both conditions

Amphetamines and Eating Disorders

Amphetamine abuse and eating disorders may occur together. Research shows that individuals with eating disorders are likely to abuse amphetamines and those who report using methamphetamine indicate that they do so to achieve weight loss. Amphetamine dependence can, therefore, become problematic and exacerbate symptoms in those with an eating disorder.

Commonly Used Amphetamines with Eating Disorders

Methamphetamines are a common drug of abuse among those with eating disorders, which is not surprising given that side effects include decreased appetite and significant weight loss. While abuse of illicit methamphetamine is common in individuals with eating disorders, some people may turn to prescription amphetamines to reduce appetite and induce weight loss. Physicians typically prescribe amphetamines to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Individuals suffering from eating disorders may obtain amphetamines through a prescription from a doctor or they may obtain them illegally.

Someone with an eating disorder may abuse one of the following amphetamines to promote dramatic weight loss:

Some amphetamine users may refer to these drugs by their street names such as black beauties, speed, uppers or bennies. They may be taken in pill form or snorted, injected or smoked.

Relationship Between Amphetamines Addiction and Eating Disorders

A relationship exists between amphetamines addiction and eating disorders because people may begin using amphetamines to control appetite and reduce their body weight. Over time, as people continue to use amphetamines, they may become physically dependent upon them. Addiction to amphetamines can produce unpleasant side effectssuch as sleep disturbances, paranoid behaviors, extreme agitation, and unpredictable violent outbursts.

It is also possible that amphetamine addiction can develop before an eating disorder. One study found that in cases of anorexia and substance use disorders, the substance use disorder tends to come before the anorexia. It is possible that a person becomes addicted to amphetamines then develops mental health symptoms and a distorted body image that leads to an eating disorder.

Prevalence of Amphetamine Use with Eating Disorders

Amphetamine abuse is likely prevalent among individuals with eating disorders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 14% of people with a substance use disorder have anorexia and another 14% have bulimia.

Research also suggests that amphetamine abuse may be more common among those with anorexia nervosa when compared to bulimia nervosa. A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders with women revealed the following results:

  • Among those with anorexia, 8.1% experience abuse or dependence of amphetamines
  • 2.7% of individuals with bulimia nervosa abuse or are dependent upon amphetamines
  • Amphetamines are the most common drug of abuse among those with anorexia

While the International Journal of Eating Disorders study did not report amphetamine abuse statistics for those with binge eating disorder, it is likely that amphetamine abuse also occurs in this population. A separate study found that about a quarter of people with binge eating disorder also experienced a substance use disorder during their lifetimes. It is possible that people with this diagnosis may use amphetamines to attempt to reduce their appetite and prevent binging.

Treatment for Amphetamines Addiction and Comorbid Eating Disorders

Whether the eating disorder or amphetamine addiction occurs first, those who have an amphetamines addiction and a comorbid eating disorder diagnosis will require treatment for both conditions. Eating disorder treatments may involve any of the following:

When an amphetamine addiction co-occurs with the eating disorder, therapies should be integrated into the treatment plan. Treatment for amphetamines addiction can also include medications, psychological therapy or withdrawalmanagement programs. Depending on the severity of the addiction and eating disorder, treatment may occur in an inpatient setting or on an outpatient basis.

If you or a loved one live with a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health disorder, like an eating disorder, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about how individualized treatment programscan help. You deserve a healthier future, call today.

Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Jenni Jacobsen
Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

Glasner-Edwards, Suzette. “Bulimia nervosa among methamphetamine[…] after treatment.” Eating Disorders, May 2011. Accessed May 16, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is methamphetamine?” May 2019. Accessed May 16, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Amphetamines.”  2017.  Accessed May 17, 2019.

Baker, Jessica. “Eating disorder symptomatology and su[…]ased twin sample.” International Journal of Eating Disorders, November 1, 2010. Accessed May 17, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Clients with substance use and eating disorders.” 2011. Accessed May 18, 2019.

Herzog, David. “Drug abuse in women with eating disorders.” The International Journal of Eating Disorders, July 1, 2006. Accessed May 18, 2019.

Grilo, Carlos. “DSM‐IV psychiatric disorder comorb[…]eating disorder.” International Journal of Eating Disorders, October 24, 2008. Accessed May 18, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.