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Having an extremely thin body or behaviours involving frequent binging and purging are some everyday habits of people with an underlying eating disorder. However, such individuals may also engage in other activities to eliminate the unwanted calories, such as laxative abuse.

Laxative abuse occurs when someone attempts to repeatedly use them to eliminate unwanted calories, feel empty, or lose weight. As one of the most commonly sold over-the-counter medications, laxatives can wreak havoc on the body, especially when consumed in excess. By inducing problems like dehydration, electrolyte deficiencies, and a lack of essential minerals, laxative abuse can quickly make life extremely uncomfortable and challenging to live.

Help must be sought immediately if you or someone you love has been abusing laxatives to lose weight before it exerts permanent damage to the body. Many rehabs provide comprehensive laxative abuse treatment at different levels of care to give such people a second chance at life.

The presence of the following symptoms can potentially indicate if you or someone you know is addicted to laxatives:

  • Taking laxative pills or drinking their powdered form before and after having food
  • The urgency to use the toilet after meals
  • Rearranging any work, school, or social obligations around bathroom breaks
  • Spending a lot of time in the toilet after having a meal or a snack
  • Progressively increasing the number of laxatives consumed
  • Feeling happy and content after passing stool
  • Hiding laxatives
  • Visiting different pharmacies to purchase laxatives in large quantities
  • Lying to others about using laxatives or other herbal products to initiate a bowel movement
  • Experiencing an obsessive or ritualistic behaviour around the use of laxatives
  • A negative body image
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide body fat
  • Feelings of shame, anxiety, or depression, particularly associated with body weight

Overuse of laxatives is widespread with bulimia nervosa to purge the body. Moreover, anorexic individuals may also use it to control the calories their bodies absorb from food. Unfortunately, those who abuse laxatives to purge usually undergo a longer duration of illness, sometimes lasting up to 10 years or even more. The longer the period of anorexia and the consequent laxative abuse, the more likely someone will suffer extended complications. Most of these complications persist for a lifetime, even after the addictive behaviour has been addressed and ceased.

What complicates the situation even more is that people who use laxatives due to an eating disorder often regain a lot of body weight once they stop this medication. This weight gain is due to rehydration of the body and is so quick that it may tempt the individuals to restart their purging, binging, and calorie-restricting behaviours. This vicious cycle is highly addictive, and many struggle to escape it without professional help.

Using laxatives persistently for a specific time can make the body rely on them for waste removal. Most users become physically and psychologically dependent on these pills more quickly than they realise. Over time, abusing laxatives starts producing side effects, such as:


The primary purpose of using laxatives is to manage constipation. However, when someone starts abusing them, they are likely to worsen it. Most types of laxatives work by irritating or stimulating the large intestine’s nerves, which induces muscle contractions to pull the stool out of the body. A prolonged and frequent repetition of this mechanism can damage these nerves.

Moreover, laxatives weaken the colon muscles by preventing them from working as they should. Together, all these side effects hinder regular bowel movements, leading to constipation.

Diarrhoea and Gas

Using laxatives can trap gas inside the intestines, giving rise to bloating and a feeling of fullness. These uncomfortable feelings often tempt people to use more laxatives as a treatment, setting up a vicious cycle. In some, explosive diarrhoea may occur due to overuse of these medications, which interferes with the quality of life by preventing the afflicted from participating in any activities.


As opposed to what many believe, laxatives do not remove calories. Instead, they focus on drawing water from the body, leading to dehydration. Dehydration can stress the body organs significantly and may prove fatal if not treated in time. Some symptoms of dehydration include decreased urination, excessive thirst, headaches, reduced sweating, weakness, fatigue, dry mouth, and headaches.

Electrolyte Abnormalities

The explosive diarrhoea resulting from laxative overuse can lead to the loss of essential electrolytes, including sodium, chloride, and potassium. These abnormalities in electrolyte levels may cause irregular heartbeats, weakness, and even sudden death.


the intestines of a healthy person are coated with a layer of mucous that protects their walls from irritation. Moreover, the intestines are also home to many bacterial colonies that regulate immunity and overall health. Constant use of laxatives strips away the mucosal layer and the bacteria, leaving the intestines vulnerable to irritation and infection.

Rectal Prolapse

Severe long-standing diarrhoea due to laxative abuse may cause the inside of the large intestines to protrude out through the anus. This condition, known as rectal prolapse, requires surgical management.

If you or a loved one has been misusing laxatives and feel like the situation has gotten out of your control, it is critical to reaching out for help. Opening up to a trustworthy person can help you recognise and understand your issue and emotionally support you in seeking professional treatment.

A typical treatment plan to manage the long-term effects of laxatives abuse typically involves various therapeutic procedures. The format you may undertake will depend on multiple factors, such as the severity of the issue, the presence of any coexisting disease, and the level of support you require. Most rehabs perform an initial assessment to judge all these factors and decide on a treatment plan accordingly.

The following types of recovery programmes are often available to try at a rehabilitation centre:

Inpatient Programme

Inpatient treatment is ideal for those with severe laxative abuse with a very high risk of relapse. Most people who join this treatment programme are the ones who have undertaken treatment for their addiction in the past and have either failed or relapsed due to multiple triggers at home. An inpatient programme requires the client to reside at the rehab facility with others to undergo recovery through various therapeutic and medical interventions. Some of inpatient programmes’ most commonly used therapies include dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and more.

Partial Hospitalisation Programme

Partial hospitalisation programmes to treat laxative abuse are suitable for individuals who do not wish to live in an inpatient rehab but require a well-structured and more intense schedule than an outpatient treatment plan. In many cases, clients who have completed the inpatient treatment transition into a partial hospitalisation program attempt to slowly and steadily re-enter daily life. Clients can reside in their places or in a dedicated facility during partial hospitalisation. Irrespective of their stay location, most of their time is spent participating in long therapeutic exercises provided individually and in groups.

Outpatient Programme

Outpatient treatment is the most basic treatment best suited for people with mild side effects of laxative overuse. This care plan involves various therapeutic and medical interventions offered a few hours a day a few times a week. Some important recovery tools include din outpatient programmes including psychotherapy, group therapy, coping skills development classes, family therapy, and more.

Many people commonly disregard laxative abuse as a serious condition, mainly because these medications have been designed with the intent to help them. However, misusing them can lead to extreme health risks that may potentially trigger early mortality in many. Moreover, the longer these laxatives are used, the more challenging it will be to achieve permanent recovery.

Contrary to what most people believe, laxative abuse is just as severe and dangerous as any other mental health illness and addiction. The physical effects it triggers are much riskier than most think, and the fact is that overusing laxatives is not going to start any weight loss too. Abusing them will only hurt the body, mentally and physically, without providing any substantial benefit.

If you have been abusing laxatives for some time and need help, but are too embarrassed to seek it, do not hesitate to speak up. There is nothing shameful about admitting an illness; doing so will only increase the chances of recovery.

There is no reason to wait for help anymore. Join a laxative abuse treatment centre today and start your recovery at once.



The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


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