The Connection Between Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse - Treatment Solutions

The Connection Between Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

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A new technique that is being used among treatment facilities today is to look for and treat co-occurring conditions, such as substance abuse and mental illness.  Another disorder that has recently been linked to substance abuse is eating disorder.

New research shows that up to 35% of substance abusers have eating disorders, and up to 50% of those with eating disorders also have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse.  These numbers are much higher than the general public for each of these statistics.  A few studies have been done in the past, but this newest one, “Food for Thought – Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders” from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, shows a stronger link than was previously believed.

Bulimia and Anorexia

There are 2 main types of eating disorders that the study has linked to substance abuse.  Bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa both primarily affect young women, and both are the result of the patient’s attempt to lose weight.  Bulimia is expressed through binge eating, followed by purging through vomiting or using laxatives.  Anorexia is characterized by a fear of eating which results in restricted food intake and starvation.  It has been found that many patients with these eating disorders have a distorted view of their body image, and are struggling with all the ads, magazines, and movies that glamorize super thin stars.  Another new trend in the world of the stars is to dub the two disorders as “drunkorexia”, causing the condition to sound trendy and popular, and to trivialize its seriousness.

Link Between the Disorders

There are a few possible reasons for the connection between eating disorders and substance abuse.  Many people with an eating disorder will use things like caffeine, diuretics, tobacco, cocaine, and heroin to help in weight control through appetite suppression and increased metabolism.  Others have found that those that have an eating disorder self-medicate with drugs or alcohol when they have negative emotions, or are feeling low about their body image.  Still other researchers are trying to find out a third disorder that causes the other two, or underlying risk factors and characteristics that are the same for both.  Both types of disorders are found in individuals that are suffering from stress, that have a family history of the disorders, that may be impulsive, and that have low self esteem or depression.

Treatment For Co-Occurring Disorders

It used to be that treatment for a patient with a dual diagnosis primarily focused on the substance abuse aspect.  Physicians were under the impression that if someone had both an eating disorder and was doing drugs, they needed to first take care of the drug problem before tackling the eating disorder.  But today, things are different.  Doctors now realize that co-occurring conditions greatly affect each other, and in order to treat the one, you have to acknowledge and work on the other.  The good news is that both substance abuse and eating disorders can be treated.  Through therapy and counseling, treatment facilities are able to help patients recover from both of these serious disorders.

Unsure where to start? Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. This evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are designed to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result. Please be aware that this evaluation is not a substitute for advice from a medical doctor.