Prevalence of Alcohol Use and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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Many people use alcohol to cope with stress and mental health disorders. For many people, alcohol is a way to self-medicate. It numbs the pain, distracts us from the negative thoughts we experience, and may even briefly increase feelings of relaxation and euphoria. However, as we have found out in previous articles, alcohol does not help solve one’s problems and many times makes mental health challenges worse. Specifically, let’s discuss the prevalence of alcohol use and body dysmorphic disorder.

Body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD, is a mental health disorder in which people see magnified flaws or feel extreme anxiety about one’s appearance. Often, these flaws or physical features that trigger these emotions are not noticeable to others, and for many people with BDD, they may not even exist. For example, people with BDD may see themselves as weighing more than they typically are or see features such as blemishes or enlarged features that simply are not there.

BDD can lead to depression, self-harm, and even thoughts of suicide. Let’s learn more about body dysmorphic disorder, the risks of using alcohol, and treatment for this dual diagnosis.

If you or someone you love has been struggling with an alcohol-use disorder and mental illness, Guardian Recovery is available to help. Our recovery program tackles all existing conditions simultaneously, assisting clients in maintaining recovery for years to come. Our dedicated and compassionate team of professionals has combined decades of experience in alcohol abuse and mental health and developed a comprehensive and highly individualized recovery program. If you want to learn more about your recovery options, contact us today.

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Can Alcohol Use Cause Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Most likely, alcohol is not the sole factor that causes BDD. However, it may make coping and symptoms worse. According to research, the most common reason a person may use alcohol is to cope with the distress a person experiences about their appearance with body dysmorphic disorder.

Lifetime prevalence rates of alcohol use disorder in BDD are high. Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder are most likely to use alcohol to cope with distress due to body image concerns. People with BDD reported reasoning for alcohol included reducing the pain of body image concerns, forgetting about body image concerns, and feeling more comfortable about their appearance around other people. The article also found that people who used alcohol to cope with BDD were associated with a lifetime of BDD risk and attempted suicide.

Does Alcohol Affect Body Dysmorphic Disorder Symptoms?

Alcohol affects body dysmorphia by increasing physical symptoms triggering the distress one may experience about personal appearance and growing anxiety and depression due to the chemical imbalances we experience with alcohol. The dangerous combination of mental health and impulsivity can increase problematic behaviors.

One way that alcohol may increase the severity of BDD is that alcohol does impact a person’s physical appearance, specifically one’s skin. One of the most noticeable signs of aging is seeing a person’s face and how their skin looks. Unfortunately, alcohol affects a person’s appearance through inflammation, blotchy skin, increased redness, and age spots.

These changes that can impact a person’s health and appearance may trigger more distress with a person’s increased physical flaws.

Secondly, alcohol may increase feelings of depression and anxiety due to chemical imbalances in the brain and intensifying symptoms of BDD. Alcohol interferes with serotonin levels. When a person has normal levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, people feel emotionally balanced and stable. However, when a person receives too much serotonin, psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression can occur.

Finally, alcohol can increase impulsive and destructive behaviors when mental health issues and alcohol are combined. Because symptoms of depression worsen with the use of alcohol disorder, there can be adverse effects of alcohol use. People may need to be hospitalized more often due to violence, suicidal tendencies, or self-harm. Additionally, the use of alcohol can create mental health episodes to emerge earlier in life than for people who do not chronically use alcohol. This may make treatment more challenging and risk intense mood or behavioral shifts.

Can Body Dysmorphic Disorder Lead to an Unhealthy Relationship with Alcohol?

Unfortunately, combining body dysmorphia and alcohol use can create a behavioral cycle. A person can easily be triggered by BDD and struggle with symptoms of anxiety, depression, social isolation, and even develop OCD behaviors.

Suppose a person does not seek treatment for BDD. In that case, they may turn to alcohol and other substances to numb and cope with the extreme distress from their mental health because alcohol exacerbates these mental health challenges and worsens a person’s physical appearance, behavior management, and despair. Because a person feels like things are deteriorating, they may not know what to do but continue to engage in alcohol or other substances to distract from the pain. This cycle of extreme distress and behavior keeps people with BDD trapped in a cycle of using alcohol and struggling with mental health disorders.

Research indicates that people with BDD are highly likely to have drug and alcohol disorders. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, nearly half of all people with BDD had some type of drug use disorder at some point in their lives.

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Treatment Options for Body Dysmorphic Disorder & Co-occurring Alcohol Addiction

There are evidence-based therapies found to treat BDD effectively. Body dysmorphic disorder is a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder. A person could look at treating BDD similarly to OCD and experience the same successful treatment outcome.

Evidence-based therapy and a combination of antidepressants, such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil, have increased success in reducing BDD symptoms. Research indicates that 7/10 people will benefit from medication and therapy for their OCD, and with treatment, people can expect to see a reduction of their symptoms by 40-60%.

Evidence-based therapeutic interventions found to be successful in treating OCD are cognitive behavioral therapyexposure and response prevention, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, is an evidence-based therapy that helps clients identify and change self-destructive thinking patterns. Most men and women who struggle with alcohol use disorder experience automatic negative thoughts, which often contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression. A wide range of proven strategies is employed as part of CBT. They are geared towards helping clients identify negative thinking patterns and ultimately challenge and change these thoughts, replacing them with more constructive and objective ideas.

Exposure and Response Prevention

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. It is a highly successful protocol designed to manage the intrusive thoughts and behavioral rituals associated with OCD. Exposure includes facing intrusive thoughts or fears that trigger intense anxiety and fear. Examples may be to be in a social setting without makeup. The response consists of finding new coping skills other than engaging in the compulsion to reduce feelings of anxiety. Systematically desensitizing the triggering events and replacing behaviors can help retrain one’s brain to improve coping and prevent further OCD symptoms from developing.


BDD and OCD are disorders that can often develop after a traumatic event. According to the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, this therapeutic method was first developed in 1987 to treat men and women with post-traumatic stress disorder. This client-centered therapy involves bilateral stimulation and eye movements to help clients process trauma in a non-verbal manner. Clients briefly focus on traumatic memories and simultaneously undergo bilateral stimulation, effectively reducing the emotional discomfort associated with the painful memory. Not only are there specific protocols of EMDR specific for alcohol use disorder and addiction, but there are also protocols that have been designed and studied to treat OCD effectively.

Additionally, if alcohol use disorder is a problem, a person must seek treatment for their dual diagnosis. At Guardian Recovery, we treat various dual-diagnosis disorders, including OCD and anxiety.

Guardian Recovery Dual Diagnosis Program Services: 

  • Psychiatric assessments upon admission.
  • Individual, group, and family therapy.
  • One-on-one sessions with an on-staff psychiatrist.
  • Medication management services.
  • Informational workshops exploring the connection between substance abuse and mental health.
  • A focus on life skills and healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Relapse prevention training that applies to both mental health concerns and substance dependence.

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Do you or a loved one have BDD and an alcohol use disorder? At Guardian Recovery, we offer comprehensive and highly specialized clinical services geared towards helping men and women of all ages and all walks of life overcome long-term substance abuse and mental illness. Contact us today to learn more about our dual diagnosis program, begin your healing journey, or help your loved one get started. You don’t have to navigate this alone. Call today for a free, no-obligation insurance benefit check and learn more about how we can help.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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