Eating Disorders and Addiction Recovery

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Eating disorders and addiction have a surprising amount in common. They can have similar causes, risk factors and effects. Like drug addiction, eating disorders have long been associated with mental and anxiety disorders, causing uncontrollable urges to binge, purge, or starve oneself. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has said that eating disorders often occur when depression, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders are present in life, and that early diagnosis is often the key to a successful recovery [1]

Likelihood of Co-occurring Eating Disorders and Addiction

Studies have shown that 50% of people who have an eating disorder also have a substance use disorder, compared to 9% of the general population [2]. Additionally people with a substance use disorder are 11 times more likely to have an eating disorder than the general population.
The common co-occurrence of addiction and eating disorders is understandable as often both disorders develop from the same cause. Another reason they are so likely to coexist is that when an individual is struggling with controlling their substance dependence, they often try to regain control in another aspect of their life, for example by limiting their food intake. Or, on the other side of the coin, someone suffering from an eating disorder will try to self medicate by taking drugs in high doses, thereby developing an addiction.

3 Most Common Eating Disorders

There are three main types of eating disorder that are recognized by the American Psychological Association:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
    Those suffering from Anorexia Nervosa have a distorted body image and attempt to lose weight even when they are dangerously thin. This is a mental health disorder which is 10 times more common in females and is the third most common chronic disease affecting teenagers.
  • Bulimia Nervosa
    Bulimia is another mental health disorder centered around unhealthy weight loss, where individuals binge eat and then try to rid themselves of the calories by vomiting, abusing laxatives or exercising excessively. Both Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia are potentially life-threatening conditions.
  • Binge Eating Disorder
    This eating disorder involves regularly eating excessive amounts in very short periods of time, followed by feelings of shame and guilt. People with binge eating disorder don’t stop eating when they are uncomfortable, due to an unhealthy relationship with food. 8% of American adults suffer from binge eating disorder, making it the most common eating disorder in the US.

Signs of Eating Disorders

Physical signs of eating disorders can vary based on the type of eating disorder present. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Drastic weight loss
  • Calluses on knuckles
  • Sunken cheekbones
  • Unhealthy skin
  • Sunken eyes

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Causes of Eating Disorders and Addiction

The causes of eating disorders and substance use disorders are essentially the same, and include:

  • Environmental Factors
    Unfortunately society glorifies many unhealthy things, including a thin figure and uninhibited alcohol consumption. Peer pressure, especially among teens, to achieve these goals, often plants the seeds for substance abuse and eating disorders to flourish.
  • Genetics
    Both addiction and eating disorders are often attributed to genetics and personality. Research has shown that more than 50% of eating disorders can be attributed to genetics, which explains why these diseases often run in families.
  • Trauma
    Experiencing trauma or intense stress can trigger deep emotional problems, and unhealthy relationships with food or other substances are a common outcome. Sometimes addiction forms as a result of regularly trying to escape from memories or feelings by getting high on substances.
  • Mental Health Issues
    A high percentage of those with an eating disorder or substance use disorder suffer from a co-occuring mental health issue. The most common co-occurring disorders are anxiety and depression. Those with untreated mental health issues can develop addiction or eating disorders in an effort to regain control of their life.

Treating An Eating Disorder During Recovery

Due to the strong correlation between addiction and eating disorders, it’s important for addiction treatment to address both issues and their causes simultaneously, in order to achieve a long-lasting recovery. If the eating disorder is not treated while undergoing addiction treatment then there is a very high chance of giving in to urges and relapsing.
Dual diagnosis treatment is offered in many drug rehabs across the US, improving chances for a complete overall recovery. Integrated dual diagnosis treatment (IDDT) is the method used to effectively treat co-occurring mental health issues in both inpatient and intensive outpatient programs. Professional facilities like Avenues Recovery offer therapies, counseling and recovery tools to help individuals overcome emotional and mental health issues while dealing with their addiction.

Screening For Eating Disorders

As an addict, it can seem like an uphill battle to get clear of that stage of craving and withdrawal, and leaning on an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia can feel like a solution. This is why screening for these problems is an important part of your doctor’s job during this time of transition. This is especially true for you if you are leaving in-patient care to continue your recovery process in your own home. Continuing to check on factors such as weight, overall health, and appearance can help your physician monitor these changes in you, but it is your job to keep medical professionals up to date on these changes as well.

Dual Diagnosis Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse Treatment

Living with addiction is a continuous battle, but there is help for you throughout every step of the way, and this includes any new fights that you might face on the pathway to recovery. Eating disorders can be a common association throughout this process, but they are also an issue that can be treated along with other symptoms and disorders that might present themselves.
Avenues Recovery’s skilled staff are here for you every step of the way. Contact us today or give us a call at 603-583-4200 so we can assist you.




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