Using laxatives on a routine basis to obtain regular bowel movements can ultimately lead to laxative abuse or addiction. Once laxative abuse starts, many complications can occur and it can be difficult to get the digestive system back on track.
Complications from Abusing Laxatives
You may experience complications from prolonged or acute laxative abuse, including problems not directly related to the digestive system. Potential complications include:
- Abdominal bloating, pain, or a sense of constant “fullness”
- Abnormalities in electrolytes
- Bleeding (which can lead to anemia)
- Gastric Bleeding
- Gastric Ulceration
- Hemorrhoid irritation
- Inability to absorb nutrients properly (can lead to hypoproteinemia, calcium deficiency, or hypoalbuminemia)
- Inability to absorb medications
- Injury to the intestine
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Liver problems
- Melanosis Coli
- Metabolic disturbances
- Perforations and lacerations of the esophagus (Mallory-Weiss Syndrome)
- Permanent impairment of bowel function
- Ulcerations in the bowels
- Weight loss
You may be surprised to learn laxative abuse can also lead to chronic constipation due to the dehydration brought on by using laxatives. As a result of the constipation, you will be tempted to take more laxatives, which complicates the problem and leads to a never-ending cycle.
Ending Laxative Abuse
If you have fallen into an addictive relationship to them, you must stop using laxatives immediately! Drink at least six to ten glasses of water to help hydrate your body. You should also avoid caffeinated beverages because caffeine promotes fluid loss and your body needs fluids to prevent constipation.
To help get your bowels back on track, you should also engage in regular physical activity. This doesn’t mean you should adopt a rigorous exercise routine. Rather, taking up a sport or active hobby, such as gardening or sailing, can be a great help. Try just walking a mile or two every day.
You can also promote regular bowel movements by making improvements in your diet. Eat at least three meals per day and try to space them out throughout your schedule. Also, choose high fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads. Keep in mind fiber works by absorbing fluids in the digestive system and loosening the stool while simultaneously providing it with bulk. Therefore, it is particularly important for you to increase your water intake to help prevent constipation. Try this free colon cleanse recipe and see if you can obtain results without resorting to laxatives.
Experiencing Withdrawal From Abusing Laxatives
When putting an end to abusing laxatives, you might experience side effects from withdrawal as your body works to restore its natural function. Some of the most common side effects from withdrawal include:
- Fluid retention
- Temporary weight gain
The number of days, months, or years you have been abusing laxatives does not limit the severity of the side effects you may experience. The best way to decrease the side effects is to be prepared for them ahead of time. For the majority of people, these side effects last only a few weeks.
Getting Help for Addiction
If you are having problems ending the cycle of laxative addiction, or if you are experiencing any of the complications associated with abuse of the substance, it is important to seek medical treatment. The first person you should contact is your family doctor for a complete physical examination to address the complications you might be experiencing from your laxative abuse.
If you need help creating a dietary plan to improve regularity, you might consider consulting with a nutritionist. Together, you and the nutritionist can create a dietary plan you can enjoy while also helping your bowels to function properly.
You may also want to consider getting counseling for your laxative abuse problem, as it is easy to become psychologically addicted to laxatives and feel you “need” them. If you are coping with these feelings, a counselor can help you work through these issues. It is particularly important to seek counseling if you are suffering from an eating disorder, such as abusing laxatives to control weight.
Laxative abuse is a serious problem and it’s easy to be caught up in its vicious cycle. It’s best to avoid using laxatives altogether because of their chemical-derived, addictive properties. If you choose to take laxatives, don’t use them more than a couple of days. If you still experience digestive problems, consult with your doctor rather than continuing with laxatives—they really aren’t the best option.