Antabuse for anorexia?

I was in the bathroom today, and I got to thinking (thinking, for me, is generally a dangerous phenomenon and especially so when I have lots of time to myself, such as when using the loo).  Alcoholics can take Antabuse.  It doesn't take away the cravings or the ability to drink, it just makes drinking extremely unpleasant.  And I was thinking that it would be nice if I could have something like that for anorexia.  Something to make the illness immediately and acutely unpleasant.  Something to retrain my brain from thinking "But not eating will make me feel so much better..."

Of course, if an alcoholic really wanted to drink, they would just not take the Antabuse, but still.

I know that anorexia does make me feel worse in the long run.  But then I think that not eating will make me feel better right now, and it gets hard.  Because "long term" is very cognitive; "right now" is much more emotional.  It's much harder to use cognitive skills against a very visceral reaction.  It makes good evolutionary sense. When there's real danger, it's actually an asset to act without thinking.  The problem is that our brains generally suck at figuring out when it's real danger (as in OMG-I'm-going-to-be-eaten-by-a-tiger) and when it's not.  Again, thank natural selection.  It operates on whatever helps us survive and reproduce, not what makes our lives calm.

Which brings up the next question: maybe it's not my response (stress=ED thoughts), but my perception of danger.  The problem is that I find the world pretty terrifying.  And what do you do when you always feel on edge?  When you're never quite sure what will come back and bite you in the ass and so you treat everything like a rabid animal?

I think it's something I need to discuss with Dr. H tomorrow.  I know I need to desensitize myself to many of these things.  Exposure and response prevention is very effective with OCD, and I know personally that it's helped diminish my food fears.  But with the OCD and anorexia, I had something concrete to work on.  I was scared of germs.  Or food.  Or of hitting someone with my car.  Now, my problem isn't so much OCD but generalized anxiety, that constant "what if" chattering away in the back of my mind.

Anxiety can be overcome--or at least people can learn to live with it.  I'm still trying to figure out how.


hm said...

Oh, Carrie, I so understand. The other day a person I didn't know sat directly across from me at a table and my body and mind reacted as if I was in terrible danger- blood pressure/heart rate skyrocketing instantly- panicky, short of breath- it felt as if her energy was crashing into mine and could potentially suck me dry to the bone. And then there was the intellect part. The part that shook its head in disgust at my body for responding with a frenzied trip down fight or flight road because someone I didn't know SAT NEAR ME. Good grief.

And yet I couldn't help it- I felt like I was in danger. I had to force myself to breathe, to focus on items I was reading (or pretending to read at that point), to sit still, act normal, and not get up and run away outside to my car to be alone, alone, alone, and safe.

The whole fucking world feels dangerous, and so do all the people in it, except the particular few I have, for some reason, been able to let "in" and label as "safe."

I know "guilt" is a crappy motivator, but it's as close to Antabuse as I've got. Anorexia feels so safe and peaceful compared to the loud, chaotic, unpredictable world around me. Sometimes I'll force myself to read the horrible potential side effects of eds on the heart, kidneys, liver, etc. and I think awful thoughts about how I'd be abandoning my kids and stuck in a hospital (I haaaaate doctors)... and sometimes the anxiety over what might happen is enough to motivate me to eat right again. Fear tactics suck. I'd love it if I could eat b/c "I deserve it" or "It's good for me" but sometimes fear and guilt are the only things that can push me back over the line. Sometimes even they can't though.

Ugh. I'm venting, and perhaps saying uncomfortable or offensive things. Please, anyone who reads this, forgive me if so. I am NOT trying to endorse fear or guilt tactics- God knows us ed sufferers have enough guilt and fear without me suggesting anyone take on more. Just expressing my deep understanding of the draw of the ed to avoid the out of control feelings of danger all around me- and my lack of finding any other Antabuse-like option that can set me straight.

Katie said...

I understand too. I have had problems with panic attacks, OCD and general anxiety since I was four - that's 22 years now, and I still see the world as one big threat. Like hm, experiences where my body hugely overreacts to something completely insignificant and not remotely threatening are common. I walk around with part of my brain constantly running through all the ways I could die. In some ways, anorexia shielded me from that not only because it calmed and channelled my anxiety, but because it felt like I was taking control of my own fate. Sort of saying to the universe "you can't fire me, I quit" - choosing the manner of my own destruction.

This might be the most redundant thing I've ever said, but maybe you are over-thinking this (well, duh! That's what anxious people do best!). But by that I mean you are acting as if there is a logical link between anorexia and emotional/physical safety, when in reality all there is is a delusional belief that anorexia makes everything okay, which comes from the eating disorder itself. Because it doesn't make anything okay. It fucks everything up horribly, including your mood and anxiety if it goes on for long enough. Maybe, by continuing to tell yourself that not eating would make you feel better, and that it's annoying that this is the case because it would be easier if it made you feel like crap, you are just reinforcing those links in your head. Maybe if you acted as if anorexia was a massive pain in the butt that made you feel like rubbish and your life not worth living, it would be easier to cope. Because once you get to a certain point you will realise that this is true. Anorexia doesn't make anything better, not even emotionally or in terms of anxiety. When you are healthy and your recovery is going really well, you have the resilience to cope much better with anxiety. When you are starving yourself all you're doing is masking it, and making yourself increasingly unable to cope with anxiety without resorting to those behaviours. That emotional link between anorexia and stability is not real.

Like I said, probably the most redundant thing I ever said, because I remember just how difficult it was for me to break that very same link. That was the main emotional obstacle to recovery for me. I hope Dr. H can help you with it :)

I Hate to Weight said...

i took antabuse and drank on it twice. i got dangerously sick. it can be deadly

the ONLY thing that's helped my drinking is AA, particularly the Twelve Steps. i resisted it for years and years, thought it was culty and ridiculous BUT it works.

it's the idea of giving up control and self-will.

my anxiety is way less, i am so much happier. and i'm not drinking, finally

i've also noticed that i'm accepting my weight gain and letting myself be. (i've been anorexic and bulimic.)

just my thoughts. i guess i remembered my very bad experiences with antabuse

Cathy (UK) said...

I know that I felt very 'safe' when immersed in anorexic behaviours, and that the world felt very scary outside of my little hyper-controlled world. So in that way AN 'worked' for me. But, unlike many others with AN, I hated my emaciated body and thought it looked awful. And AN became 'out of bounds' when my heart started to fail.

I am still scared of some of the simplest things in life that most people negotiate without thinking (or worrying). I still live my life within the bounds of quite a rigid routine, but at least that routine now incorporates adequate nutrition.

I don't think I need 'antabuse' to prevent me from relapsing again, and I have no desire to return to the awful state that I was in. When the world seems too scary, I just hide away for a few days.

Some people tell me that it's 'not good for me' to hide myself away, but in my hiding periods I do relatively positive things, like painting, cleaning, organising and tidying. I've never binged, self-harmed, drunk alcohol or taken drigs. Hiding, cleaning and painting are my perhaps my replacement strategies for AN. And if hiding enables me to continue to eat I will continue to resort to hiding when the world becomes too stressful!

Cathy (UK) said...

I meant 'drugs' not 'drigs' - whatever the latter are! :D

hm said...

Ha ha ha Cathy- you and your drigs. :)

Warning: Random question- off topic. For anyone who has a thought they'd be willing to share.

I used to drink all kinds of water. As my food intake increases, I forget to drink- there is simply less room and time for it. My RD said I have to increase my water intake b/c I'm dehydrated. She says juice, milk, etc. are required too but they count as foods and can't replace water. So I've increased my water... and now my food is decreasing. Again with the less room thing. Seems like I can't find a balance. Any ideas? How the hell do I make room in there for both???

Katie said...

hm - I have the same problem. I'm dreadful for getting myself dehydrated - nothing to do with my ex-ED, just a bad habit. The only time I have been properly hydrated is when I was anorexic, because I drank a lot of herbal tea. All I can suggest is maybe try getting more liquid calories in? Solves both problems at once :P

azhe'n said...

hm, i do the same thing with food/water. a particular water bottle helps, i think it's the straw. it's not that i'm not full, but i do take in more. i drink from a 24 oz. Camelbak. and i keep track during the day (which is annoying but just where i am) so at the end of the day i can force it if need be. i'm also adding water to Ensure to get it up there as well. another option is to eat things that are water dense. all of this SHOULD be our 'antabuse for anorexia'...

re: the anxiety. i'm so damn sick of trying so hard all the time to do, be, feel all the right whatfreakingevers that i've relented to medication. the other option is to literally run until i'm worn out which defeats the increase of nutrition which becomes a spin cycle of self-loathing. i understand it biologically but i can't figure 'it' all out. is the anxiety less when i'm starving? yes. will the anxiety kill me? probably not even though you can't reason with the feeling that it might. so at the end of the day i have to just try to treat myself as i would any other person and with at least some semblance of the same amount of kindness, otherwise, i'm pretty sure none of this will ever work out or matter. i would never expect anyone to live through the utter crap expectations i put on myself. if my leg were broken i wouldn't walk on it. so if i'm peeling myself from the ceiling with panic/anxiety i have to treat it, not try to out think or analyze it.

sending you om-ness and deep breaths of calm.

Carrie Arnold said...


I agree with trying to get some nutrition in via liquids. I went through a phase when I was underweight and terrified of water, and it was easiest for me to start off on things like Ensure because then I didn't have to tackle food AND beverage.

Juice can be useful--the 100% juice counts as a fruit. I don't know if you like to drink milk (I don't. I never have, but I did do it during refeeding at times for the same issue), but that's an option. Things like ice cream count as liquids, too, since they melt in your stomach. I've put hot cocoa mix or Carnation Instant Breakfast in my coffee, since there ain't no way this girl is going without her morning cuppa.

Hope this helps.

hm said...

Thanks everybody for your thoughts. I get from your posts that I'm not alone in this- this seems to be a common struggle. I'm a huge fan of the smoothie for this reason- made with rice milk. My RD says rice milk counts as "food" though, and in addition to rice milk and juice I STILL need a minimum of 6 cups of water. Seriously? I've been choking down four and I feel like a fucking water balloon. I think she's being extreme, and I believe in getting liquids from water dense foods, juice, etc. as well as just water. Seems like you all agree... tell me if I'm wrong. So that's... counting me... four against one. RD fail. I'm counting my rice milk and juice as hydraters.

azhe'n said...

my team isn't that strict right now but i'm only about a month in so that could be why. they just don't expect in OP that i'm going to go from severe restriction to all well. every oz and scrap is being written down so they do know where all is coming from. i would just hate to tell you something when i'm obviously not well myself and you count my struggle as a vote against your RD's advice. i understand the feelings and the problem though.

Anonymous said...

In an odd sort of way isn't food like Antabuse for AN in some ways?

Anonymous said...

When you eat adequately and consistently the food thoughts/preoccupations/ED urges gradually decrease. When weight is stable and in recovery range the body image issues can start to improve. Similar to Antabuse there's adverse effects that come with eating and taking the medication (Antabuse/Food)but if at the end of the day one is sober/in recovery isnt it worth it?

Renee said...

For me, the "antabuse" for my anorexia is the binging/purging that inevitably happens when the hunger and starvation finally catch up to me. Like they did this week.

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Anonymous said...

The innkeeper loves the drunkard, but not for a son-in-law. antabuse

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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