Trauma and multi-impulsivity in the eating disorders

Eat Behav. 2007 Jan;8(1):23-30. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2004.08.009. Epub 2004 Sep 22.


Background: Multiple impulsive behaviours are common in the eating disorders, and multi-impulsive patients appear to do more poorly in treatment. However, comparatively little is known about the origins of multi-impulsivity in such cases. This study addresses the links between reported childhood trauma and multi-impulsivity in the eating disorders, examining whether specific types of trauma are predictive of specific impulsive behaviours in this population.

Method: The sample consisted of 102 individuals who met strict criteria for an eating disorder, and who were interviewed regarding trauma history and comorbid impulsive behaviours.

Results: Any reported history of childhood trauma was associated with a higher number of impulsive behaviours and with the presence of multi-impulsivity. Childhood sexual abuse was particularly important, and was associated with self-cutting, alcohol abuse, and substance abuse (amphetamines, cocaine, cannabis and 'other substances', including ketamine and benzodiazepines).

Discussion: These findings indicate the importance of considering the psychological consequences of trauma during both assessment and treatment of the eating disorders. In particular, eating-disordered women who report a history of childhood sexual abuse should be examined for a pattern of comorbid impulsive behaviours.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / epidemiology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology
  • Bulimia / epidemiology
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Comorbidity
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Impulsive Behavior / epidemiology
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Illicit Drugs