Binge-eating teens, as well as those who overeat, have an increased risk of drug use, such as marijuana.

The finding came from a study conducted by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and was published Online First in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Binge eating is when a person consumes an amount of food greater than most people would consume at a comparable time and in a similar situation, as explained by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition). A binge-eater also loses control over eating at the time of the incident, as opposed to overeating when the individual does not lose control.

Kendrin R. Sonneville, Sc.D., R.D., of Children’s Hospital in Boston, and team set out to analyze the link between overeating and binge eating and the negative consequences, including frequent binge drinking, marijuana and other drug use, overweight/obesity, and depression symptoms.

There were 16,882 males and females involved in this study who were between the ages of 9 and 15 when the study began in 1996, and who also took part in the Growing Up Today Study.

Between 1996 and 2005, the subjects were given surveys they filled out every 12 to 24 months in order for the team to evaluate their eating habits.

Results showed that girls engaged in binge eating more often than boys. Between the ages of 16 and 24, 2.3% to 31% of females and 0.3% to 1% of males said that they participated in binge eating.

A prior report indicated that depressed teenage girls have two times a higher chance to start binge eating than those who are not depressed.

The researchers explained:

“In summary, we found that binge eating, but not overeating, predicted the onset of overweight/obesity and worsening depressive symptoms. We further observed that any overeating, with or without LOC [loss of control], predicted the onset of marijuana and other drug use.”

In fully adjusted statistical models, the scientists found a link between binge eating, but not overeating, with incident overweight/obesity (odds ratio, 1.73) and the start of increased symptoms of depression (odds ratio, 2.19). In fact, research has shown that depressed adolescents who try to relieve their symptoms with marijuana use are actually more likely to make their condition worse.

The research also demonstrated that the onset of recurrent binge drinking was not associated with overeating or binge eating.

The experts concluded:

“Findings from this investigation and previous research suggest that LOC is an important indicator of severity of overeating episodes and highlight the importance of ascertaining LOC, in addition to whether adolescents engage in overeating episodes.

Given that binge eating is uniquely predictive of some adverse outcomes and because previous work has found that binge eating is amenable to intervention, clinicians should be encouraged to screen adolescents for binge eating.”

Written by Sarah Glynn