>U Mom Knows Best: Addiction and Co-occurring Eating Disorders

Friday, March 3, 2023

Addiction and Co-occurring Eating Disorders

 Meta Description: Eating disorders and substance abuse often co-occur and share similar risk factors. Let's learn about their similarities, why they co-occur, and suitable treatment options.

Addiction and Co-occurring Eating Disorders

 Although addiction is a chronic disease that can impact your physical, mental, and financial health, it doesn't occur on its own. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration statistics show that 13.5 percent of young adults had a substance use disorder and mental health disorders in the past year.

 Having two or more simultaneous conditions is known as comorbidity. Substance abuse is comorbid with various psychological conditions, including eating disorders, which affect at least 9 percent of the worldwide population. Let's look in-depth at the relationship between addiction and eating disorders to understand different eating disorders, why they co-occur, and possible treatments.

What Are Eating Disorders?

 Eating disorders make up a class of behavioral conditions in which people face severe and persistent disturbances in their eating behaviors. This is accompanied by stressful thoughts and emotions concerning their eating behaviors. Common eating disorder symptoms include fluctuations in weight, preoccupation with calories in food, and rapid changes in eating and exercise patterns.

 The three common types of eating disorders, as outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, are:

Anorexia Nervosa

 This condition is characterized by using self-starvation to lose weight. It can lead to extremely low weight and height for your age. People with anorexia disorder typically have a BMI of less than 18.5. Disordered behavior due to anorexia is caused by a fear of getting fat. The two subtypes include the restrictive type, which involves reducing caloric intake, and the binge-eating type, which involves purging by vomiting or misusing laxatives.

Bulimia Nervosa

 In bulimia nervosa, you switch between only eating low-calorie foods, which you consider safe, and binge eating high-calorie foods, which you consider forbidden. Binge eating means eating large amounts of food with a loss of control over what or how much you eat. People with binge eating disorders tend to be slightly underweight, but they are often of normal weight, overweight, or even obese.

Binge Eating Disorder

 Similar to bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder is characterized by episodes of binge eating - when they eat large amounts of food, lose control over what they're eating, and feel distressed about their eating behaviors. The difference is that people with binge eating disorders don't engage in compensatory behaviors to eliminate excess food. In the long run, it can lead to various health complications, such as cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and obesity.

Is There An Overlap Between Addiction and Eating Disorders?

 There are some similarities between substance use disorder and eating disorders. Stressful experiences, genetics, and environmental factors are causes for both issues. Moreover, people with substance use disorder or eating disorders also struggle with co-occurring conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Professionals at our Luxury Addiction Treatment Center can help you identify addiction and eating disorders.

Whether they're screening you for a substance use disorder or an eating disorder, medical professionals may look for signs like:

+ Giving up on hobbies or interests to spend time using a substance or engaging in disordered eating

+ Increase in the frequency or intensity of the addiction or disordered eating behavior

+ Concern by family members and loved ones

+ Rituals and obsession around the addictive or disordered eating behavior

Eating disordered and addiction have a high risk of relapse and require extensive therapeutic interventions for better outcomes.

Using Substances To Suppress Appetite

 Although substance abuse isn't observed in all people with an eating disorder, studies show that about 50 percent of people with an eating disorder will abuse drugs or alcohol. One of the major reasons for substance abuse is to restrict caloric intake. Stimulants like nicotine and cocaine are known to have appetite-suppressing effects, which explains why people with an eating disorder may turn to drug use in an attempt to lose weight.

 A colloquial term that describes similar behavior in terms of alcohol use is 'drunkorexia.' It refers to changing your eating patterns to reduce caloric intake or speed up the effects of alcohol abuse.

Using Substances As a Way to Cope with Poor Mental Health

 There's a higher likelihood that you'll abuse substances due to an eating disorder rather than vice versa. Another reason for substance abuse, in this case, is to cope with negative feelings and emotions accompanying an eating disorder. This is common when you struggle with other mental disorders as well. For instance, people with anxiety disorders may take drugs to numb the psychological pain of symptoms. It's why many people with addiction also have a mental health disorder. In England, about a quarter of people struggling with alcohol addiction are also taking medication for their mental health concerns.

What Co-Occurring Disorders Are Likely to be Associated With Eating Disorders?

 When you have an eating disorder, you have a higher risk of experiencing co-occurring conditions. These can include psychiatric and medical comorbidities.

Psychiatric Disorders

 Statistics show that many people struggling with an eating disorder also receive a diagnosis for mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. They also have an increased risk of suicide ideation, self-injury, and sexual dysfunction.

Medical Complications

 Medical conditions comorbid with an eating disorder often arise due to disordered eating behavior. For instance, developing osteoporosis because of a nutritional deficiency (which is common among people with eating disorders). Common medical complications in people with an eating disorder include diabetes, PCOS, migraines, and amenorrhea.

Treatment For Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders

 Treatment centers can address substance use disorders and co-occurring eating disorder behaviors like restrictive eating and compensating for increasing caloric intake. A holistic treatment approach will involve not only addressing your substance abuse but also any co-occurring mental illness, such as an eating disorder. The treatment will initially involve medically-monitored detox from the substance and is followed by continued therapy.

 Your long-term recovery plan will include individualized nutrition counseling to help you develop balanced eating habits. However, recovery from an eating disorder is more difficult in some aspects. Compared to drug addiction, where you can aim for total abstinence, obsession with food can't be addressed with a similar plan. You need to eat without over or under-eating.

 That's where therapists who specialize in eating disorders can help you cope with stressful thoughts about food. They can suggest healthy coping behaviors to help you develop a better relationship with food and weight.


Some of the commonly asked questions about substance abuse and eating disorders are as follows:

What disorder is often comorbid with eating disorders?

Mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders are often comorbid with eating disorder behaviors.

What are common co-occurring disorders with addiction?

Common disorders that co-occur with addiction include personality disorders, PTSD, and body dysmorphia.

Are eating disorders similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Eating disorders are similar to OCD because of the way they involve obsessive thoughts about food and compulsive, ritualistic behaviors about food.

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