Eating disorders are classified as adverse patterns of eating that are associated with obsessive and compulsive behaviors. Although these conditions tend to be the most prevalent among young women, men and people of any age may also be affected.
Those who struggle with eating disorders may engage in a variety of behaviors surrounding their eating habits, body shape, and weight.
What Are Eating Disorders?
There are a few types of different eating disorders, and the following are the most common:
Anorexia nervosa is hallmarked by self-induced starvation, skipping meals, eating extremely small portions, and sometimes excessive exercise or vomiting.
Those who suffer from bulimia use purging as a means to sustain their weight. This approach often includes vomiting or using laxatives to prevent the calories they eat from causing them to become overweight. Bulimia is closely linked to bingeing, and in fact, it is often characterized by a cycle of binging followed by purging.
Binge eating is another common eating disorder. At its heart, it involves overeating, which can continue to the point that it becomes very dangerous. This danger depends on how often the individual binges, whether or not they purge (vomit), how active they are, and whether or not they are overweight.
Compulsive eaters are less likely to purge food and are often obese. They may not be able to leave their homes and need considerable care from their loved ones just to survive. For the individual, food is mostly for comfort and not consumed merely as a means to sustain their existence. Not unlike a drug addict who is obsessed with heroin or cocaine, their drug of choice is food, and its effects on the brain are not much different.
These conditions can be very painful and, in some cases, even life-threatening. While the formation of eating disorders is not entirely understood, experts believe that they are related to emotional problems, such as those
caused by deep-seated issues or childhood trauma.
Finally, many people who experience these issues also have body dysmorphic disorder, a condition in which they are obsessed with one or more parts of their body. They consider their body to be severely flawed, even though others frequently disagree with this perception.
The Role of Substance Abuse and How Co-Occurring Disorders Interact
Like all mental health conditions, the existence of an eating disorder will raise the risk that an individual will try to self-medicate with substances to relieve some of their distress. And like all of those who abuse drugs or alcohol, once they get used to the rewarding chemical changes these substances can induce, they are placing themselves in danger of becoming dependent on them, and, ultimately, developing a full-blown addiction.
Some drugs may, at least temporarily, yield benefits for those experiencing an eating disorder. For instance, the abuse of stimulants, such as cocaine, Adderall, or meth, is not uncommon. These substances can suppress appetite and also increase energy, offering the person a double-whammy that can help them feel rewarded and euphoric and active despite the fact they are not eating properly.
Of note, a relatively recent phenomenon has come to light that is often referred to as “drunkorexia.” This phrase is used to describe a person, usually, a woman, who ingests most of their calories in the form of alcohol. An individual who operates like this can indeed stay relatively thin and also remain buzzed most of the time.
Amy Winehouse, a famous blues/jazz singer, was often mentioned as having this uncommon condition, as she was always very thin and frequently intoxicated, even in public. Tragically she died in 2011 of alcohol poisoning.
In one study, investigators found that people who had eating disorders were perhaps five times likely to abuse substances as compared to the rest of the population. Also, more than one-third (35%) of those who abused drugs or alcohol had an eating disorder, compared to just 3% of the rest of the population.
Unfortunately, individuals who suffer from eating disorders often consider the use of drugs and alcohol beneficial because of their ability to make life easier for them, at least temporarily, in some way. But substances subtly convince those who use them that this is true., when in fact, they can be even more harmful. They can change the brain in profound and sometimes permanent ways, and the people who experience them often do not understand that this is happening.
When a person who is self-medicating using drugs and alcohol quits abruptly, it’s clear that their disorder causes a significant amount of discomfort and pain. For this reason, the individual may be willing to do almost anything to make themselves feel better.
Fortunately, people who suffer from eating disorders and/or addiction can experience significant improvement. Those who undergo integrated treatment programs, in general, enjoy higher rates of both short- and long-term recovery.
With the right forms of comprehensive therapy, people who experience eating disorders can understand the importance of good nutrition, and how to consume food in a more reasonable manner. But when substance use is being used to subdue adverse feelings or trauma that are underlying actors that contribute to an eating disorder, this can significantly hinder the process of healing.
Therefore, it is vital to treat both conditions simultaneously to promote the best outcomes. A person who relapses back to engaging in substance use is also far more likely to return to eating disorder habits. Moreover, re-engaging actively in either condition can impair one’s readily find themselves resorting to poor eating habits after a relapse.
What’s more, people who are in recovery from an eating disorder might continue to experience intense cravings for drugs when presented with triggers. For example, if a person is dependent on a glass of beer to make socializing less stressful, he or she may be faced with a relapse back into both bad habits if they have not developed the coping skills to deal required to cope with these problems.
Getting Substance Abuse and Eating Disorder Treatment
Because these disorders are closely related, interact with each other, and are grounded in many of the same underlying issues, they may be challenging to disentangle from one another. Still, comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment can effectively address both of these disorders, as well as all aspects of a person’s physical and emotional health and well-being.
We offer the following programs, therapies, and services, and much more:
- Residential treatment
- Partial hospitalization
- Individual and family counseling
- Group support
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions
- Substance abuse education
- Health, wellness, and nutritional education
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning
If you or someone you know is suffering from both substance abuse and an eating disorder and substance abuse, please know there is help. We urge you to contact us as soon as possible and discover how our programs help people get free from the unhealthy and potentially life-threatening habits that bind them!
We are here to help you recover! Call us today!