Can Medication Help Treat Binge Eating Disorder?

Eating disorder treatment is a complex and sophisticated process involving dozens of different techniques. These range from nutrition education and meal planning to experiential therapy and everything in between. Depending on the eating disorder being treated, individuals might engage in CBT, DBT, or another form of behavioral therapy, and both individual and group talk therapy are mainstays in most treatment facilities.

Binge eating disorder treatment uses many of the same techniques as those used in anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa treatment. For all the advanced treatment and psychiatric techniques used in eating disorder treatment, medications are not prescribed nearly as often as they are for other psychological illnesses. Unlike major depression or psychosis, there are no medications designed entirely for binge eating disorder. As such, medications are not considered prominent tools in its treatment.

However, when used in conjunction with binge eating disorder therapy, medications can help control symptoms and support individuals in working toward becoming recovered. By using this multi-faceted approach to treatment, therapists can assist their patients in overcoming the barriers to recovery from binge eating disorder. To go into the treatment process with confidence, it is important to learn about the top reasons to use binge eating disorder medication and what to expect from each option.

Reasons to Use Binge Eating Disorder Medications

With the right medications, it is possible to control many of the symptoms caused by binge eating disorder. As indications take the medications each day, they may experience fewer disordered thoughts and urges to binge, allowing them to focus on working toward recovery. These medications can also help control co-occurring mental health conditions that could otherwise complicate recovery. Since co-occurring mental health problems are one of the major binge eating disorder causes, becoming and remaining recovered often hinges on adequately managing those conditions.

Eating disorders are known to co-occur frequently with other mental health conditions, a situation known as a dual diagnosis. These disorders influence and trigger disordered eating patterns, and can result from them as well. Some common mental health disorders that co-occur with binge eating disorders and might require medication include:


Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities a person once enjoyed. It’s more than a simple feeling of sadness or grief, which happens to everyone from time to time. Depression is long-lasting and pervasive and can negatively affect every aspect of a person’s life, from their physical health to their relationships. It comes in several forms, including seasonal depression and post-partum depression. All forms can be treated with a variety of medications.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which affects a person’s mental state after a traumatic experience, is a common contributing factor in the development of binge eating disorder. Binge eating episodes release serotonin, a “feel-good” brain chemical that raises the mood. Thus, a person with binge eating disorder might binge eat to alleviate the negative feelings caused by acute PTSD. Medications for stress disorders include some forms of antidepressants as a long-term treatment. Benzodiazepines are also prescribed to handle acute panic or anxiety attacks related to PTSD.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Often shortened to OCD, this disorder presents when people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas, or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). OCD and binge eating disorder share similarities in that the individual feels a compulsion to engage in certain behaviors. With OCD, this might be feeling a compulsion to turn a light switch on and off a certain number of times or engage in similar behavior. With binge eating disorder, it manifests as a compulsion to eat large amounts of food even if they are not hungry. OCD is treated with medications such as Clomipramine (Anafranil) for adults and children 10 years and older and Fluoxetine (Prozac).

What Kinds of Medications Are Used to Treat Binge Eating Disorder?

Treatment professionals have many different types of binge eating disorder medications to consider for their patients. They utilize their patient’s care goals, medical history, and other factors to determine the best medication to use for their needs. During this process, treatment providers will often choose one or more of the following medication types to help treat binge eating disorder.


People with binge eating disorder can take an antidepressant medication daily to help control their symptoms. These medications work by adjusting serotonin and other important chemicals in the brain to optimal levels. Through these adjustments, impulsive and obsessive thought patterns often begin to decrease. By minimizing these disordered thoughts, the urge to binge eat tends to decrease as well.

In addition to directly helping control binge eating disorder symptoms, antidepressants can help patients manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. This helps individuals eliminate some of the binge eating disorder causes that can complicate the process of becoming and remaining recovered.

Anti-Seizure Medications

Anti-seizure medication has shown some success in decreasing disordered thought patterns and eating behaviors in people with binge eating disorder. This medication is not the first choice, however, as it does not adjust brain chemicals nor help treat co-occurring mental health conditions.

Furthermore, anti-seizure drugs can cause potentially disruptive side effects to develop, especially after first starting the medication. For some people, they are highly effective, making them a good choice for those who do not respond favorably to the other medication options.

Specially Designed Pharmaceuticals

In recent years, medical researchers have come up with a new binge eating disorder medication that helps control obsessive behavior. This stimulant actively controls the balance of chemicals in the brain to keep impulsive thoughts and behaviors at bay. In addition to treating binge eating disorder symptoms, this medication works well for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

New research on the horizon promises to bring even more medications to the table to treat binge eating disorder causes and symptoms. By using these medications to help their clients, eating disorder treatment centers can maximize the effectiveness of binge eating disorder therapy.

Using Medications to Support Binge Eating Disorder Therapy

Although important, medications simply support individuals in treatment while they work on becoming recovered in binge eating disorder therapy. They can then use the therapy sessions to better understand the conditions affecting their health and how to overcome them. They can purposefully challenge the disordered thoughts and behaviors to eliminate them, ceasing the need for symptom control through medication. They may continue taking certain medications to manage their co-occurring conditions, however.

The primary form of binge eating disorder treatment will always be talk therapy and behavioral therapy. Some of the major forms of these therapies used at virtually every eating disorder treatment center include:

Group Therapy

Used in all kinds of mental health treatment practices ranging from substance abuse therapy to cancer recovery support groups, this type of therapy is central to binge eating disorder treatment as well. Groups can be used to provide emotional support with several peers who are dealing with the same disorder. Interpersonal relationship skills are also built during group therapy sessions, which help people maintain their recovery after treatment is officially ended. Skills training is also conducted in groups, such as coping strategies for urges to binge eat and nutritional meal planning.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat a wide range of issues, and unlike many kinds of talk therapy, it is highly structured. It’s often the preferred type of psychotherapy because it can quickly help individuals identify and cope with a specific challenge. By using a structured series of question-and-answer sessions, individuals can begin to pinpoint which of their thoughts and feelings are disordered and begin to challenge them as they arise. Being mindful of one’s thoughts and actions allows CBT participants to gain a coping mechanism when disordered eating behaviors arise.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a “face your fears” type of therapy often used to help people in the later stages of recovery from an anxiety disorder. As an example, a person suffering from arachnophobia might gradually be exposed to videos of spiders, then seeing them behind glass, and then finally holding one. It applies to binge eating disorder because it is often driven by anxiety and body image concerns. If a person often ate the same kind of food during their binge eating episodes, they might be exposed to that food later on in a controlled situation. Other problem areas associated with binge eating disorder might also be addressed, such as eating alone or eating until full in groups.

Wrapping Up

Let it be clear; medication is not always the best choice to treat binge eating disorder or other common eating disorders. In fact, it’s rarely prescribed for an eating disorder alone. Even when it is necessary, medications should be complemented with a comprehensive continuum of care, including talk therapy, psychiatric treatment (if needed), and family counseling.  A quality eating disorder treatment facility near you can provide these options in a residential or day treatment setting in most cases.  Don’t delay – reach out for help sooner rather than later if you or a loved one needs help.


With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.