Dangers of laxative abuse

Richard Kerr's picture

While we understand that knowing about the dangers of laxative abuse alone is not enough to help you "just stop" using them, it is important to keep yourself as informed as you can about the potential risks and dangers.

As well as laxatives removing a lot of water from your body they also causes a loss in essential minerals like potassium, sodium and magnesium. 

A drop in these minerals can result in an electrolyte imbalance. This imbalance is harmful and can lead to muscle pain, spasm, irregular heartbeat even death.

Purging with laxatives - “the laxative myth”


Many people believe that using laxatives after bingeing will help them to control their weight and counteract any physical effects of binge eating however this is completely untrue.

In fact by the time laxatives effect the large intestine almost all foods and calories have already been absorbed.

How do laxatives cause weight loss if they don't rid the body of calories?

Any “weight-loss” caused by laxative abuse is due to the loss of water, minerals, electrolytes, indigestible fibre and wastes from the colon.

Once the body becomes re-hydrated this “water weight” that has been lost will return once more.

Side effects of laxative abuse in bulimia

  • Laxative abuse can eventually result in a condition called "Laxative dependency" which occurs when the colon stops reacting to usual doses of laxatives so that larger and larger amounts of laxatives may be needed to produce bowel movements. 
  • Bulimics who abuse laxatives can damage their gastrointestinal tract and cause weakening and softening of their bones. Abuse of laxatives in bulimia can also lead to serious bowel tumors and kidney problems.
  • Generally if you are a bulimic who takes laxatives you will become unwell as your immune system starts to shut down leaving you susceptible to infection.
  • Due to severe dehydration caused by laxatives and diuretics, sometimes drinking fluid is not enough to hydrate cells and tissues fast enough, when this happens it can cause organ damage and even death.
  • Abuse of laxatives causes the muscles in your bowel can become very weak from the lack of use, with the delicate nerve lining in your body’s colon also becoming damaged.
  • Long term bulimics who abuse laxatives can have colon failure.

Therefore the health risks associated with using laxatives and diuretics are very high especially when you realize that they don't help you to counteract the physical consequences of a binge!

Below we have outlined a list of easy to read symptoms that laxative abuse can lead to.

Laxative and diurectic abuse can lead to:

  • Tremors
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Water retention
  • Colon infection
  • Blurry vision
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Chronic Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Electrolyte Disturbances
  • Chronic Constipation
  • Bowel tumors
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Kidney damage
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Organ damage
  • Colon failure
  • Death

Failing to re-hydrate

Many bulimics who suffer from laxative abuse may try to avoid re-hydration in order to avoid gaining water weight. But it is vital that you understand failing to re-hydrate in this way can lead to serious health complications, including permanent damage to vital organs, and in some cases death.

Ready to stop abusing laxatives?

We know that it's never easy to stop abusing laxatives, especially if you've become dependent on them over a long period of time. However the great news is that with the right support and guidance it is fully possible to stop using laxatives in this way.

In the Bulimia Recovery System we give some excellent advice and outline the practical steps to take in order to stop abusing laxatives. If you'd like to find out more about our approach to recovery then you can sign up to our free bulimia recovery course now and see what recovery at Bulimia Help is all about!



The information provided in this website is for information purposes only. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please refer to the full disclaimer and copyright. If you do think you might suffer from an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to your General Practitioner, as there are many physical complications that can arise from being at an unhealthily low weight or from losing weight very quickly, or from purging. We advise you to seek professional help with working on an eating disorder.


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