By Lauren DeSouza- Master of Public Health, Simon Fraser Public Research University – Canada
Staff Research and Content Writer
This article is reproduced herein with permission of the copyright holder.
© Copyright – SUD RECOVERY CENTERS – A Division of Genesis Behavioral Services, Inc.,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – September 2021 – All rights reserved.
Vaping has become increasingly common among youth and young adults. In 2019, 22% of U.S. college students reported vaping regularly. The most common substances vaped are nicotine and marijuana, and some college students report vaping just flavored e-liquids or vaping illicit drugs.
Vaping is associated with mental health conditions including depression and anxiety. Vaping and other tobacco use is commonly used for emotional regulation – dealing with big feelings like anger, anxiety, or frustration– especially among young people.
Eating disorders are also common among college students. Most eating disorders begin before age 25. They are most common among women (between 9-29% of female college students report symptoms of eating disorders) and among transgender/gender non-conforming students (14%). Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. There has been a rise in the prevalence of eating disorders among young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vaping and Eating Disorders
Tobacco use, particularly cigarette use, and other substance use is common among those with eating disorders. Between 30-50% of those diagnosed with eating disorders in the U.S. also smoke cigarettes. The nicotine in cigarettes can suppress appetite and the act of smoking can be used as a distraction from thinking about food or eating. This makes smoking especially common among those with anorexia nervosa.
New research has found that vaping is also associated with a higher risk of an eating disorder diagnosis and with symptoms of disordered eating. Symptoms of disordered eating can include: extreme concern with body size and shape; rapid, dramatic weight loss; preoccupation with weight, food, calories, etc.; and body dysmorphia.
The most common substance vaped by those with eating disorder diagnoses or symptoms was nicotine. Vaping with nicotine can create similar appetite-suppressive effects as cigarettes, making it common among those with anorexia nervosa. Nicotine vaping was also found to be common among those with binge-eating disorder. Young people who vape tend to be more impulsive and prone to risk-taking behaviour. Similarly, binge-eating disorder is characterized by impulsivity, suggesting that this characteristic contributes to both behaviours.
Those with eating disorders/disordered eating behaviours may start vaping to support eating disorder behaviors and goals, such as:
- Suppressing appetite
- Encouraging weight loss
- Reducing caloric intake
Vaping e-liquids come in a variety of candy and dessert flavors, which individuals may use to have the experience of these foods without ingesting the associated calories. These flavored products are particularly popular among young people.
Both vaping and eating disorders are damaging to health and can have both short and long- term health consequences, especially for young people.
Young people’s brains continue to develop past age 25, and developing brains are more vulnerable to the health effects of nicotine, such as addiction. Vaping also increases the risk that young people will start smoking or using other substances in the future. Finally, vaping is linked to mental health conditions, and can lead to physical health problems including respiratory damage, heart disease, and seizures.
Eating disorders are associated with gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological complications that can damage a person’s short-and long-term health. A lack of sufficient nutrients can prevent proper functioning of all major organs, primarily the heart and brain. All forms of eating disorders also damage the digestive system.
Health experts worry that vaping among those with eating disorders/disordered eating behaviors may worsen these negative health effects and increase risks of immediate and long-term damage.
If you are struggling with substance use such as vaping and/or with an eating disorder, reach out for support.
- Both vaping and eating disorders are common among young people.
- Those with eating disorders may vape with nicotine to try to suppress appetite or promote weight loss.
- Both vaping and eating disorders/disordered eating behaviors can have serious health consequences, and the use of both together can be even more harmful.
- If you are struggling with substance use such as vaping and/or with an eating disorder, reach out for support.
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Helpline: 1-(800)- 931-2237
**If you are in a crisis and need help immediately, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line. Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 support via text message to individuals who are struggling with mental health, including eating disorders, and are experiencing crisis situations.
Support to quit vaping: : Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)
Ganson, K. & Nagata, J. (2021). Associations between vaping and eating disorder diagnosis and risk among college students. Eating Behaviors 43: 101566
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). Health Consequences. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/health-consequences