• bulimia nervosa;
  • anorexia nervosa;
  • disordered eating;
  • substance use disorders;
  • comorbidity;
  • prevalence;
  • twin study;
  • genetics



Research shows a significant association between eating disorders (ED) and substance use disorders (SUD). The objective of this study is to examine the prevalence, chronology, and possibility of shared familial risk between SUD and ED symptomatology.


Subjects included 1,206 monozygotic and 877 dizygotic adult female twins. ED symptomatology included anorexia (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) diagnosis, symptoms associated with diagnostic criteria, and BN symptom count. SUD included alcohol, illicit drug, and caffeine abuse/dependence. Generalized estimated equation modeling was used to examine phenotypic associations, and Choleksy decompositions were used to delineate the contribution of genes and environment to comorbidity.


There were no significant differences between SUD prevalence in women with AN and BN. Women with BN reported BN preceded SUD development while the reverse was true for AN. Twin analyses showed possible familial overlap between BN symptomatology and all SUD examined.


Results suggest an important difference in the chronology of EDs and SUDs. Women with BN may be turning to substances to dampen bulimic urges. Women with AN may be engaging in substance use initially in an effort to lose weight. Results also suggest familial factors contribute to the comorbidity between BN and SUD. © 2010 by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2010;)