Eating disorders are conditions in which people experience severe disturbances in eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. People who suffer from eating disorders are preoccupied with food and often their body weight. It is estimated that 30 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, and they are most often women aged 12-35. There are three main eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. There are a few other types of eating disorders, however.
Addiction to substances commonly occurs with those who also experience a mental health condition, such as an eating disorder. In fact, recent research revealed that approximately 50% of people who have an eating disorder have also abused drugs or alcohol. This rate is five times that of the general population. Furthermore, 35% of people who engage in substance abuse also experience an eating disorder—a rate 11 times that of the general population.
The most common drugs of abuse among those with eating disorders include alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, diuretics, laxatives, and heroin. It is no coincidence that many of these substances may be used by someone who is trying to lose or control weight, a common characteristic of an eating disorder.
Substance abuse and eating disorders also share many common risk factors, including genetics, family history, low self-esteem, and mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Other shared factors may include a tendency to engage in compulsive or addictive behavior, social isolation, and suicidal ideations.
Is an Eating Disorder an Addiction?
Research has found similarities between the behavioral experience of bulimia and drug addiction. For example, both food and drugs can invoke cravings that often become associated with certain people, places, or circumstances. People experience feelings of pleasure and reward when eating and using drugs, which encourages them to engage in these behaviors repeatedly.
There are also biological similarities between drug and alcohol addiction and bulimia, however. Other research has revealed that people with bulimia have dopamine abnormalities similar to those who have an addiction to cocaine or alcohol. Also, cravings for both drugs and food are associated with activation in many of the same regions of the brain.
These findings imply that eating disorders may be a type of behavioral addiction, not unlike gambling or hoarding. At the very least, they represent the need to engage in certain activities to fulfill an urge, and will often do so despite the incurrence of adverse consequences.
Addiction and Eating Disorder Recovery Options
Eating disorder treatment depends on a person’s particular disorder, individual factors, and symptoms. However, it typically includes several components, such as psychotherapy, nutrition education, medical monitoring, and sometimes medications.
Eating disorders clearly demonstrate the intimate links between emotional and physical well-being. The first step in treating anorexia nervosa is usually to assist the patient in achieving a normal weight. For patients with bulimia nervosa, the first step is often to interrupt the binge-purge pattern of behavior. For patients with binge eating disorder, it is vital to help them refrain from binging.
However, restoring a person to a healthy weight or temporarily halting the binge-purge cycle does not address the underlying emotional issues that have caused or been made worse by abnormal eating behavior. Psychotherapy, which is usually the center of any treatment program, aims to help people with eating disorders understand the thoughts, emotions, and actions that are at the heart of these disorders. Also, some medications have been proven to be effective in the treatment process.
Generally speaking, eating disorder treatment must involve addressing other mental and physical health problems that contributed to or are caused by an eating disorder, which can be severe or life-threatening if left untreated. For example, people with anorexia are often profoundly undernourished, and 1 in 5 deaths from this disorder is the result of suicide. Moreover, many other health-related factors must be considered when treating an eating disorder to promote the overall wellness of the individual.
A comprehensive, personalized approach to eating disorder treatment can help a person manage symptoms, maintain a healthy weight, and improve physical and mental health. If an eating disorder doesn’t improve with conventional treatment or lead to health problems, a person may need to be hospitalized or placed in long-term inpatient treatment.
Addiction to drugs or alcohol is treated in much the same way as eating disorders through a combination of psychotherapy, counseling, and medication. Midwood Addiction Treatment offers the following services, all of which can be beneficial for treating addiction and also addressing issues associated with an eating disorder:
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual and family counseling
- Peer support groups
- Substance abuse education
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Art and music therapy
- Mindfulness meditation and yoga
- Aftercare planning
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and/or an eating disorder, we urge you to seek help as soon as possible. Contact us today and discover how we help people reclaim their lives and sustain long-term happiness and wellness!