HealthDay News — There may be a shared genetic component for alcohol dependence and eating disorders, study results suggest.

There were significant genetic correlations between alcohol dependence, binge eating and compensatory behaviors, such as starvation, self-induced vomitting, excessive exercise, laxative use or use a fluid or slimming tablet in a cohort of twins, Melissa A. Munn-Chernoff, PhD, from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and colleagues reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“These findings underscore the importance of screening for both alcohol dependence and eating disorder symptoms in samples of men and women with the hope of better detection and treatment,” the researchers wrote.

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Although previous studies have established that both alcohol dependence and bulimia nervosa are independently heritable disorders, little is known about the potential genetic link between the two.

To better understand this relationship, Munn-Chernoff and colleagues analyzed data from 5,993 same and opposite-sex twins included in the 1981 cohort of the Australian Twin Registry. Twins completed a baseline general health questionnaire between 1980 and 1982, a follow-up self report questionnaire between 1988 and 1990, and a diagnostic telephone interview to measure alcohol use, abuse and dependence, as well as anorexia and bulimia symptoms and disorders between 1992 and 1993.

Alcohol abuse and dependence, binge eating and compensatory behaviors were determined based on scores on a modified version of the Semi-Structured Assessment for the Genetics of Alcoholism (SSAGA-OZ).

Overall, 491 men and 234 women met criteria for alcohol dependence, and 224 men and 493 women reported any history of binge eating.

More detailed information on binge eating frequency and compensatory behaviors were only available for women, among whom 122 reported binge eating twice a week and 371 reported binge eating less than twice a week during a three month period. A total of 619 women reported engaging in at least one compensatory behavior to control body weight and 487 reported using two or more in their lifetime.

Among women, additive genetic and non-shared environmental effects influenced alcohol dependence, binge eating and compensatory behaviors, with heritability estimates ranging from 38% to 53%, the researchers found. 

A common effects model equated all genetic and non-shared environmental influences in men and women; the heritability estimates were 50% for alcohol dependence and 38% for binge eating.

“These findings indicate that common genetic factors may underlie the vulnerability to alcohol dependence and the liability to binge eating and compensatory behaviors,” the researchers concluded.

They called for more research to determine the source of common genetic and environmental influences as targets for prevention and intervention efforts.


  1. Munn-Chernoff MA et al. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2013;74(5):664-673.