A man taking pills and wondering, "What Is laxative abuse?"

What Is Laxative Abuse?

When you imagine drugs that people abuse, your mind might not jump to laxatives. However, if you’re struggling with an eating disorder, laxative abuse might be part of it. Addiction treatment programs that focus on eating disorders can help you break free. But exactly what is laxative abuse?

If you’re ready to set yourself free from your eating disorder, there is hope. Take the first step and reach out to one of our trained counselors at 844.875.5609

What Is Laxative Abuse?

Laxative abuse is different from many people’s idea of drug abuse. Most traditional drugs of abuse have a psychoactive effect that makes them highly addictive. However, people with eating disorders may abuse laxatives for a different reason: weight loss.

Laxatives are over-the-counter drugs that are usually used to relieve occasional constipation. However, people with eating disorders sometimes use them long-term to lose weight and feel thinner. Laxative abuse often involves the following:

  • Taking more than the suggested dose
  • Using laxatives longer than recommended
  • Needing more of the laxative over time as you develop a tolerance
  • Continuing to use laxatives to purge even when you experience negative effects

Using laxatives might make the number on the scale look temporarily lighter, but they don’t lead to any kind of meaningful weight loss. Most people who abuse laxatives do so because they think the drugs move food through their digestive system so quickly that fewer calories are absorbed.

However, that’s not how laxatives actually work. While laxatives stimulate your large colon and encourage bowel movements, most calories from food are absorbed in the small intestine. Thus, laxatives ultimately aren’t an effective way to purge food or calories. However, they can have potentially dangerous effects when overused.

Why Is Laxative Abuse Dangerous?

Laxatives might not sound like dangerous drugs. Indeed, when used occasionally, they aren’t. However, overusing them can lead to serious complications.

Electrolyte Imbalances

When you abuse laxatives, you interfere with your body’s system of absorbing certain nutrients like electrolytes. If your electrolyte balance is compromised, you might notice a range of symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Abnormal heart rate

You might drink electrolyte-rich beverages to help make up for these deficiencies. However, if you keep taking large amounts of laxatives, you’ll likely just keep running into the same issue.

Weight Gain

This might seem like a surprising effect. However, laxatives help you expel so much fluid that when you discontinue them (or simply when the effect wears off), you might experience edema (swelling) and fluid retention. 

Unfortunately, this effect can lead to further laxative abuse. When you feel bloated or heavy, you might be inclined to use more laxatives.


When you take laxatives, a lot of what you lose is not fat but water. Regularly using laxatives can lead to severe dehydration, especially if you refuse to rehydrate. Dehydration can make you dizzy and confused. In severe cases, it can cause kidney damage, hospitalization, and even death.

Chronic Constipation

As your body gets used to the effects of the laxative, it starts to lose its ability to have bowel movements on its own. If you abuse laxatives for long enough, you might find yourself unable to have a bowel movement without them.

Set Yourself Free with Addiction Treatment Programs at Promises

Laxative abuse rarely occurs by itself. It’s often part of an eating disorder, and it can feel next to impossible to get out of that destructive spiral. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. At Promises, our compassionate staff members help you break free and discover a life that isn’t controlled by an eating disorder. All you need to do is contact the intake counselors at Promises at 844.875.5609.

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