12 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Extreme thinning, as well as indications of binge eating and purging, are common symptoms of eating disorders. Individuals with bulimia, anorexia, or binge-eating disorder, on the other hand, may engage in various behaviors in order to rid their bodies of food and feel slimmer. Laxatives are a very frequent approach for teenagers and adults to try to get rid of calories or food.

Laxative abuse is a purging activity in which a person tries to flush undigested food from their bowels quickly in order to purge their body of undesired calories. After using laxatives, many people report feeling “emptier” or “lighter” which they wrongly associate with weight reduction. 

Water, minerals, fiber, several vital electrolytes and vitamins, and waste are the only constituents of food that have not been processed by the time it gets to the large intestine. As a result, the “weight” that is shed is mostly water, and it is made up of many necessary nutrients that the body requires to function. Abuse of laxatives leads to electrolyte imbalances and dehydration, which can harm the heart and other body organs. With repeated use, the colon becomes reliant on laxatives, requiring significantly larger doses with time.

Laxative use isn’t just about vanity; it may also be a dangerous way to cope with feelings of humiliation, despair, the need for control, the need for acceptance, or anxiety. According to a survey, 56.3 percent of persons with eating disorders took laxatives, and  71.6 percent of persons with purging anorexia overuse laxatives, according to one study.

Women aged 14 to 19 were found to be suffering from eating disorders, according to these statistics. Eating disorders like bulimia and post-traumatic stress disorder which can lead to laxative use, have been associated in studies. Bulimia sufferers frequently express a strong desire to be “empty.” Despite the risk of major negative health consequences, including deaths, laxative reliance prevents an individual from having normal bowel function in the absence of the usage of laxatives.

According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics of 13,600 young adults aged 13 to 25, 10.5 percent of girls aged 23 to 25 admitted to using laxatives in the previous year to reduce weight. (Men reported nearly no laxative abuse, but were far more likely than women to take muscle-building drugs.) Females in this study started experimenting with laxative use when they were in their adolescent years.

Laxative misuse is also prevalent among a subset of anorexics who engage in purging behavior. Those who purge using laxatives frequently have a long sickness duration, about 10 years on average.

Laxatives function in one of 4 main ways: 

  • By activating the intestine lining to force stool through the system quickly; 
  • By absorbing water into the colon to soften the feces; 
  • By adding a lubricant, such as mineral oil, to create an inner water slide for stool;  
  • By layering up the stool with fiber so the bowel is naturally stimulated to force it through the system faster. 

However, excessive usage of laxatives can result in a number of problems:

Dependence on laxatives. Chronic laxative usage can cause the colon to unlearn how to perform its normal functions. Laxatives can disrupt the gastrointestinal nervous system. The enteric nervous system controls gastrointestinal function and is a part of the autonomic nervous system.

Damage to the colon. Long-term use of stimulant laxatives like over-the-counter Dulcolax and Correctol has been linked to nerve and muscle harm in the large intestine, according to research. Chronic, long-term use of stimulating laxatives has also been involved in the development of melanosis coli, a disorder in which the cells of the wall of the colon are damaged and die. Cell death can occur in as little as a few months after using laxatives. Synthetic stimulant laxatives aren’t the only ones that cause it. Natural laxatives like senna and aloe vera can trigger the same cellular alterations.

Gastrointestinal issues. Water is drawn into the colon by osmotic laxatives like magnesium citrate and milk of magnesia, softening the stool. While this may make stools easier to pass, it can also lead to gastrointestinal problems such as bloating and diarrhea. These drugs can also cause electrolyte imbalances and dehydration because they draw fluid from the rest of the body.

Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. Mineral oil and other lubricant laxatives might influence how the body absorbs minerals, vitamins, and other drugs if used for more than a week.

Neurological issues in children are a possibility. Miralax, a popular over-the-counter osmotic laxative, is currently being investigated by the FDA after complaints that it has caused neuropsychiatric disorders in children. The polyethylene glycol in Miralax has been related to adverse effects like aggression, psychosis, depression, and anxiety, according to ongoing studies and strong anecdotal evidence. Miralax and neurotoxicity have been reported.

Treatment from a team of skilled medical and behavioral health specialists, high-end dietitians, and counselors is critical when laxative usage is a part of an eating problem.

Patients must first be rehydrated and their bodily minerals and electrolytes must be balanced. Medical practitioners with experience in eating disorders should closely follow this process.

Support from healthcare practitioners, therapists, and relatives is particularly necessary because laxative misuse includes a psychological component. People who have taken laxatives in the past may feel compelled to use them again. As part of a complete eating disorders treatment program, clients should learn positive coping mechanisms, self-acceptance, and self-confidence to help them accept their bodies as they are and avoid relapsing.

Here are some of the best ways to avoid constipation.

Consume a high-fiber diet. Constipation is defined as having 3 or fewer bowel movements per week or pushing to pass hard, a tiny stool at least 25 percent of the time, according to the National Institutes of Health. Eating more whole-food forms of fiber, which are much healthier than fiber supplements because of the associated phytonutrients, is one of the important reversal techniques. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, artichokes, peas, raspberries, blackberries, and avocados are just a few examples. Another excellent source of fiber is ground flaxseed. A tablespoon can be added to low-glycemic baked products or smoothies.

As needed, supplement. Though it’s best to boost your fiber intake through fiber-rich whole foods, there are occasions when fiber-rich supplements can be a valuable addition to your medicine cabinet: while traveling, when circadian disruption can cause sluggish transit time; after a crucial surgery or trauma, when a course of needed painkillers can cause sluggish bowels; or shortly after pregnancy, when transitions in physiology can cause things to slow down.

Keep yourself hydrated. Every day, consume at least half of your body mass in fluid ounces of pure, filtered water.

Reduce foods that cause constipation. Constipation is linked to dairy consumption. However, it’s just one of a few items that have been related to long transit times (also symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, joint pain, and bloating). An exclusion diet can help you figure out if food is causing your chronic constipation. The elimination diet is the standard method for finding food sensitivities.  Simply removing dairy from a child’s diet may improve transit time if they refuse to undergo a full exclusion diet.

Accept fermented foods with open arms. Kimchi, sauerkraut, coconut yogurt, kombucha, and kvass are all good fermented foods that can help keep things flowing. Is there a bonus? You won’t require much. Consider fermented foods as condiments: a shot of kvass or a spoonful of sauerkraut on a salad can help you manage your internal transit time.

Take it easy. According to experts, today’s digestive-distress epidemic is fed by stress, and we live stressful and isolated lifestyles now more than ever. We are constantly rushing from one assignment to the next, and we eat on the go. The enteric nervous system is calmed by how you eat, and this can be just as important as what you consume in keeping you regular.

Abusing laxatives may not appear to be a huge concern, especially because they are supposed to aid patients. When they are overused, however, they can pose serious health hazards, potentially leading to premature death. Moreover, the longer they are used, the more difficult it will be to achieve long-term recovery.

Overuse of stool softeners and laxatives to the extent where someone cannot have a bowel movement without them leads to laxative dependency. It can occur when patients try to self-medicate for persistent constipation or misuse laxatives for losing weight.

If you or someone you love is addicted to laxatives, there are several actions you may take to help them recover.

Create a list of all of the laxatives you use, as well as how frequently you use them. You might be astonished at how often you use pills and liquid medications in a month!

Next, start weaning yourself off laxatives by removing the most problematic pills from your list. Keep taking the moderate meds do not go off abruptly from all of your bowel aids. Avoid any aggressive colon cleansing procedures as well.

Reduce your daily dosage in half if your body has accustomed to merely using moderate constipation and stool softeners remedies. This could take a little more time to get used to, particularly if you use laxatives on a regular basis. You’ll be fine as long as you’ve had a bowel movement twice a week.

You must drink lots of water, consume more fiber, and exercise more in conjunction with progressively reducing your laxative dependency. These three steps are the most critical and effective ways to get your indolent colon working properly again.

Recovering from laxative abuse, like recovering from other addictions, can be a stressful and constantly uphill battle. There are support services in your region that can assist those who are recovering from substance misuse. For further details, check local directories or ask your doctor.

Some teenagers and young adults utilize “cleanse” products or digestive teas that promise cleansing and weight loss. Influencers frequently offer juice or herbal washes to “fight bloat” or feel lighter to teenagers and young adults who use social media all through the day. While utilizing these supplements or teas for occasional constipation may have a short-term benefit, they are not intended to be used on a daily basis. The digestive tract, like laxatives, can become reliant on them.

As fluid returns to the intestine and colon, rebound weight gain might occur. Individuals may be compelled to use laxatives for long periods of time and in greater doses when their weight increases. Taking these herbal pills and items might be just as hazardous as taking a packet of laxatives from the supermarket.

The form of treatment needed for a person who abuses laxatives is determined by a number of factors, including the following:

  • The duration of time that people have been abusing laxatives
  • What kinds of laxatives are commonly used
  • How much laxative is being consumed
  • Any additional eating disorders or mental diseases that you may have

Those with the most severe forms of laxative abuse will almost certainly need residential treatment before receiving therapeutic interventions for laxative abuse. When the person is admitted to the inpatient facility, he or she will undergo the treatments that he or she requires based on the problems that have arisen. Someone suffering from a severe case of laxative abuse, for instance, is likely to require intravenous rehydration. Alternatively, someone with a colon infection will require antibiotics to clear away the infection. Again, the treatment given while in the inpatient will be determined by the physical symptoms the patient is experiencing.

Those who need laxative abuse treatment can engage in inpatient, partial hospitalization, or outpatient programs, just as they can for other eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia.

Inpatient Programs for Laxative Abuse. Inpatient laxative abuse treatment is best for those who have a serious problem with laxatives. When undergoing this sort of treatment, a person will live in a facility with other people in recovery and will receive medical and therapeutic treatments to aid in their rehabilitation. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) are two of the most prevalent techniques used in inpatient treatment for laxative misuse.

Partial hospitalization programs. Partial hospitalization for laxative abuse is a type of treatment that can help those who don’t need inpatient care but require more supervision than an outpatient program could provide. Those who have undergone inpatient programs are often transferred to partial hospitalization as a strategy to slowly but steadily re-enter their daily lives.

Individuals can opt to live at home or in a facility as part of this form of treatment. They will spend most of their time doing therapeutic exercises alone and with others over the course of a full day.

Outpatient treatment. Outpatient programs are also available for laxative abuse treatment. The outpatient program is aimed at those who do not have a serious case of laxative usage and permits them to attend for a few hours a day and/or a couple of days a week. People will participate in therapeutic treatment options like group therapy and individual psychotherapy at this time, as well as work with specialists to build stronger coping skills and continue their restoration from laxative abuse.

Abuse of laxatives is just as dangerous as any other mental condition, including drug addiction. The physical consequences of misusing laxatives are far more serious than most people realize, and the truth is that abusing laxatives does not help people lose weight. In fact, laxative misuse is frequently linked to bloating caused by gas.

Abuse of laxatives, on the other hand, is still an issue. Do not be scared to speak out if you are abusing this type of drug. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, especially if you’re willing to give up everything and seek the help you need.

Don’t put it off any longer. Get help right now if you’re abusing laxatives.

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