Impulsive and compulsive self-injurious behavior in bulimia nervosa: prevalence and psychological correlates

A Favaro, P Santonastaso
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 1998, 186 (3): 157-65
A specific link between self-injurious behavior and bulimia nervosa has been observed. In affective spectrum disorders, some authors propose a distinction between impulsive and compulsive self-injurious behavior. One of the aims of the present study is to examine how different kinds of self-injurious behavior, including purging behavior, may be classified in bulimia nervosa. The clinical impact of the different types of self-injury will be studied. The subjects of the study were 125 consecutive patients with bulimia nervosa, diagnosed by DSM-IV criteria. Subjects were evaluated by means of a semistructured interview and self-report questionnaires (Eating Disorders Inventory and Hopkins Symptom Checklist). In our sample, the distinction between compulsive and impulsive self-injurious behavior appeared to be confirmed by a principal component analysis. Self-induced vomiting loaded on the compulsive dimension and laxative abuse on the impulsive dimension. To study the clinical impact of the two kinds of behavior, bulimic subjects were divided according to their position in the two dimensions. The presence of impulsive self-injurious behavior is associated with a history of sexual abuse and with higher scores on the Symptom Checklist. The presence of both impulsive and compulsive behavior is associated with greater depression, whereas the presence of impulsive features in the absence of compulsive ones seems to be linked to a longer duration of illness and to a higher dropout rate. Both compulsive and impulsive self-injurious behaviors are associated with a greater lack of interoceptive awareness.

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