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Eating Disorders and Addiction: A Relationship Between Two Seemingly Different Psychological Disorders

People who have an eating disorder can be more likely to develop a substance abuse problem than an individual who does not have an eating disorder. Many people do not realize the two psychological conditions can be closely intertwined or how often the two problems occur and should be addressed simultaneously in eating disorder treatment centers. Problems with abusing alcohol or drugs can begin before a need for eating disorder treatment arises.

A Look at Statistics Associated with Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 50 percent of people with an eating disorder abused alcohol or illicit drugs; a rate five times higher than those in the general population. On the flip side, people who have abused alcohol or drugs were 11 times more likely to have also had an eating disorder. A few other statistics to consider include:

  • 37 percent of patients with bulimia nervosa abuse substances
  • 25 percent of patients with a binge eating disorder abuse substances
  • 27 percent of patients with anorexia nervosa abuse substances
Understanding What Creates the Link Between Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

There are a number of shared psychological risk factors between addiction or substance abuse and eating disorders. For instance, people with either issue often have brain chemistry abnormalities, such as low serotonin levels, which can be associated with unstable moods or depression. This can put people who struggle with either clinical depression or diagnosed anxiety issues at risk for developing an eating disorder. Additionally, a family history of an eating disorder struggle and the need for eating disorder treatment or a struggle with addiction can signal a risk factor for either condition.

When you look at some of the potential risk factors, it is easy to see why addiction and eating disorders can be closely related psychologically. You can also understand how eating disorder counseling should be combined with a level of substance abuse risk awareness.

Not only are the risk factors similar, but so are some of the characteristics of both disorders, such as:

  • Social isolation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
Common Substances Abused By Those with Eating Disorders

The most common substances abused by people with eating disorders are caffeine and tobacco, both of which can be used to curb food cravings. Appetite suppressants or diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics are also common because these substances have a direct effect on one’s appetite. However, other illicit drugs are also commonly abused, such as cocaine, amphetamines and heroin, and alcohol abuse can also an issue.

How to Find the Best Treatment for a Co-Occurring Eating Disorder and Substance Abuse Problem

Many eating disorder recovery facilities do offer specialized treatment specifically for patients who have co-occurring problems with an eating disorder and addiction. Eating disorder treatment programs should be equipped to treat patients who have been abusing laxatives, diuretics or appetite-suppressing drugs. However, if there are problems with illicit drug use that could require a medically-supervised detox process, you may need to research further to find an eating disorder counseling or inpatient treatment center that can address those needs.

Eating disorders and addiction can occur at the same time, and those in eating disorder recovery should understand the risks of substance abuse to protect themselves during recovery. If you would like to know more about the relationship between eating disorders and addiction, reach out to us at Oliver-Platt Centers. We offer medical and psychiatric management and high-frequency individual therapy at our eating disorder treatment centers.