Laxative abuse: a hazardous habit for weight control

J Am Coll Health. 1989 Mar;37(5):227-30. doi: 10.1080/07448481.1989.9939064.


Laxative abuse is an increasingly popular weight-loss method on college campuses, particularly for individuals with eating disorders. It is a dangerous habit, which many mistakenly believe will prevent caloric absorption and weight gain. Serious medical problems that may occur with laxative abuse include electrolyte and fluid imbalance, structural and functional colonic changes, and allergic reactions. Because patients are often secretive about abusing laxatives, laxative abuse should be considered if there is suspicion about the use of potentially destructive weight-control methods or about an eating disorder. A complete history and physical exam are essential parts of an assessment that should also include questions about diet, eating and exercise habits, and body image. Laboratory tests may provide additional supportive data. Treatment includes education, discontinuation of laxatives, medical follow-up as necessary, and psychotherapy. A college campus is an ideal forum for education, referral, and prevention programs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cathartics / adverse effects*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / complications
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Student Health Services
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Weight Loss*


  • Cathartics