Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse [Links]
You know of the dangerous nature of eating disorders and substance abuse, yet you continue to purge after nearly every meal. Despite the warnings from family and pleas from your best friends, you still abuse meth to curb the hunger pangs. Lesions are developing on your arms, hands, and face from scratching out the bugs under your skin. You feel like an obese mess as another day passes of only drinking water.
This is a story that happens all too often with those who suffer from substance abuse and eating disorders. Although you might think that having both simultaneously is not a common occurrence, studies show that women with either a substance use disorder or eating disorder were more than four times as likely to develop the other disorder. Truly, these are diseases that cause tremendous heartache and leave people wondering what they can do.
If you or someone you know is suffering from eating disorders and substance abuse, we know how painful it is. Let us be part of the healing process. When you call 623-263-7371, you will speak with an addiction specialist who can walk you through everything you need to know.
Eating Disorders 101
Eating disorders are mental illnesses that involve persistent negative eating behaviors. Along those lines, eating disorders can cause a decline in physical health, severely alter your emotions, and impede your ability to function. These disorders come with a fixation on weight, food intake, and body shape. As a result, harmful eating patterns develop that affect the body’s nutritional levels.
Eating disorders negatively impact the heart, bones, teeth, mouth, and digestive system. They can also lead to other serious diseases. Often, they develop during the teen or young adult years, although it is possible for an older adult to receive a diagnosis. It should also be noted that while the majority of sufferers are women, many young males suffer from eating disorders as well.
Types of Eating Disorders
Among these disorders, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are the most common. There are other eating disorders, but these common types are the ones most likely to co-occur with addiction. Here is a short description of each:
- Binge Eating Disorder – This is when you eat too much and feel a lack of control when trying to stop. Even though you may be full, you will continue to eat despite the discomfort. Afterward, you feel guilty, disgusted with yourself, or ashamed. However, you do not purge or exercise excessively in compensation. Mostly, these binge-eating episodes will occur at least once a week.
- Bulimia Nervosa – A possibly life-threatening disorder, bulimia is very serious. This disorder comes with episodes of binge eating and purging. If you have bulimia, you will eat large amounts of food uncontrollably and then force yourself to vomit (purge). You may also obsess about body shape or weight. Self-criticism to the point of harshness is common with this.
- Anorexia Nervosa – This is also a potentially life-threatening disorder. The main sign of anorexia is abnormally low body weight due to not eating. Along with it comes an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted view of the current weight or shape of your body. If you have anorexia, you will limit calories and exercise excessively to lose weight, rather than purging.
Eating Disorders and Addiction
Addiction and eating disorders co-occur quite frequently. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “People with eating disorders can often have other mental disorders (such as depression or anxiety) or problems with substance use.”
Also, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration echoes the same fact. They write that “eating disorders (EDs), which cause serious health problems and can be fatal, frequently co-occur with substance use disorders (SUDs).”
Looking at the behavioral patterns, when it comes to eating disorders and substance abuse, they are very much alike. As with substance use disorders, eating disorders are often triggered by stress, and recovery may come with many relapses that can affect a patient’s wellbeing. Likewise, those who suffer from addiction use substances to cope with mental stressors. Furthermore, the company you keep can make a difference as well. Substance use disorders and eating disorders alike can be influenced by a person’s peer group.
Root Cause Similarities and the Numbers
As with the behavioral similarities of eating disorders and substance abuse, the root cause of the problem for both disorders can be almost identical. For example, genetic components play a large role in both eating disorders and addiction. This also goes for certain types of chemical processing in the brain. Ultimately, those who suffer from addiction or eating disorders tend to have similar brain structures. But it does not stop there.
Impulsivity, family dynamics, environmental factors, and emotional trauma all can play a big role in both diseases. Along with the similar root causes, the numbers do not lie. Up to 35% of drug users have some type of eating disorder, in comparison to 3% of the general population.
The connection between addiction and eating disorders is clearly all too real. Because of the common traits, many treatment facilities are trying to gear treatment to better fit those with co-occurring disorders.
Treatment for eating disorders and substance abuse requires an individual treatment plan from a doctor who specializes in addiction, like a psychiatrist. If you want to receive a dual diagnosis of eating disorder and addiction, seeing a professional psychiatric help is the first step. By receiving this diagnosis, you can better address your problems regarding eating disorders and substance abuse. Most likely, you will need treatment for an addiction first, then get treatment for an eating disorder. The good news is that there are effective ways to treat eating disorders.
Treating Eating Disorders
- Anorexia – The first step in treating this is to ensure that the individual’s physical health is taken care of. Usually, this means increasing their weight to a healthy level. Sometimes, this will require a stay at the hospital. Family therapy and solo psychotherapy will greatly benefit the individual. Behavioral therapy also works with this disease as well. Likewise, self-help groups and communities can bring extra support.
- Bulimia – With this disorder, the goal is to remedy the patient’s binge eating and purging cycle. This is when behavioral therapy comes in handy. Also, psychotherapy is effective in preventing the disorder from recurring and can help get to the root cause of why it is happening. Medications, like Prozac, can also help in the recovery process.
- Binge eating – Similar to Bulimia, the treatment for this disorder revolves around breaking the binge eating episodes. Also, different types of therapy can help.
How This Overlaps with Addiction Treatment
Eating disorders and addiction treatment has many parallels with substance use disorder treatment. For example, both disorders require a three-step approach to therapy. Firstly, psychotherapy reveals the true root cause of the behavior. Secondly, behavioral therapy helps to curb the action. Finally, group and family therapies help to provide ongoing support throughout recovery. Unfortunately, there are only a few addiction treatment centers that can help these disorders when they co-occur. Most of the time, addiction rehab centers cannot treat an eating disorder and vice versa. Although this is true, there is still hope for those who suffer from both. When you call the number, you will speak with an addiction specialist who will give you guidance on your situation. No matter what the problem is, they are experts in these situations and can offer insight and perspective.
Signs to Watch Out For
At this point, you may be wondering about someone you love. Maybe this person is rapidly losing or gaining weight. Likewise, they could be using substances to keep themselves from indulging in destructive eating patterns. Or maybe they are eating and purging to keep themselves from using substances. With eating and substance use disorders, there are many different situations to watch out for.
What to watch for:
- Making excuses for missing meals, or skipping meals altogether
- Changes in diet
- Strict focus on eating healthy
- Cooking individual meals rather than eating with friends or family
- Avoiding social activities that were once interesting to them
- Excessive worry about needing to lose weight
- Checking the mirror for flaws obsessively
- Binging high-fat foods
- Use of dietary aids
- Exercising excessively
- Calluses on knuckles from inducing vomiting
- Tooth loss from purging
- Leaving during meals to use the restroom
- Eating in secret
- Feeling shame, depression, or disgust after eating
There are many different signals to consider when trying to determine if your loved one is suffering from an addiction as well.
- Obsessing about using a certain substance
- Tending to use substance when feeling down
- Believing they are better when they use the substance
- Claiming they do not have a problem
- Using substance more than intended
- Peer group has problems with substance abuse
- Looking unkempt
- Slurring speech
What You Can Do
Although much of what someone does is their own choice, there are still some things you can do to help the person. At first, you will want to approach them in a compassionate way. A great way to do this is by asking them how they are doing. Sometimes, they will respond in a way that opens the conversation. However, many times they will hide the truth. Remember that they are sick, fearful, and possibly even irrational. Therefore, approaching gently is a must.
The other thing you can do is to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Ask for Help
Despite there being a lack of concurrent treatment for eating and substance use disorders, there are still plenty of other treatments available. Most centers are now refining their treatment and putting together individual treatment plans that can address both disorders simultaneously.
If you suspect that someone you love is suffering from addiction or an eating disorder, it can be very scary. We are here to help you or your loved one regain your life and happiness. Call 623-263-7371 to speak to a professional addiction specialist today.
Written by Michael Tavernier
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