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Eating Disorders and Addiction: What’s the Connection?

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders belong to a category of mental health concerns that affect thirty million people in the United States alone. In fact, eating disorders are the deadliest mental health issue, causing an alarmingly high casualty rate. But did you know that eating disorders and addiction are co-occurring disorders?

Together, eating disorders and addiction can greatly impact you or your loved one’s life, resulting in long-term health problems and even death. Finding treatment for both of these conditions is not only important to easing their debilitating symptoms but also in saving your own life. Find out more about the connection between eating disorders and addiction below, and how you can get help right away.

Types of Eating Disorders

Before we can understand the connection between eating disorders and addiction, we must first acknowledge that there are many different types of eating disorders. Here is a brief overview of the main types of eating disorders and their symptoms:

  • Anorexia Nervosa—This condition causes those affected to fixate on their weight and body image, often to the point of severely limiting food intake or increasing output through misuse of illicit drugs, alcohol, and laxatives.
  • Bulimia Nervosa—This can best be described as a condition that makes those affected go to extremes to control their weight and body image. During episodes of binge eating, patients with eating disorders often eat past the point of fullness and use tactics like forced vomiting and purging to rid themselves of what they’ve just eaten.
  • Binge Eating Disorder—This disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa, but one of the main distinguishing characteristics is that people with binge eating disorder usually do not follow episodes of binge eating with the act of purging the food.

A common misconception about eating disorders (as with addiction) is that they are easy to spot. If someone is doesn’t eat much or starts losing weight rapidly, you might suspect an eating disorder. However, patients with eating disorders do not have a single body type. On the contrary, if you or a loved one struggles with an eating disorder, you know that it is an internal battle most of all. Common symptoms that indicate an eating disorder might involve:

  • Anxiety surrounding meals or eating with others
  • Counting calories and carefully managing weight at all times
  • Creating rules or guidelines when it comes to food
  • Stomach pain
  • Low blood pressure and dizziness
  • Poor hygiene, especially around one’s knuckles or teeth from forced vomiting
  • Uncontrollable episodes of eating, fasting, or a combination of both
  • And most glaringly, an obsession over food, weight, and body image.

Understanding Substance Use Disorder and Other Co-Occurring Disorders

The National Eating Disorder Association states that 50 percent of individuals with eating disorders also struggle with alcohol abuse or drug abuse. From the flipped perspective of these statistics, about 35 percent of people who have substance use disorder have experienced symptoms (or received a diagnosis) of one of the types of eating disorders we discussed above. 

In the case of anorexia and bulimia in particular, one in 10 people with these eating disorders also struggle with addiction. This goes to show that these mental health conditions are closely linked.

Experts are still trying to understand exactly what the connection is between eating disorders and addiction, but research shows that genetics, environmental factors, and having co-occurring disorders like depression or anxiety only make the risk factor of developing these life-threatening mental health concerns more severe.

The core root of these disorders has to do with a lack of control in one’s life and a desire to regain that control. See, disordered eating isn’t necessarily about the food itself. Instead, it’s about feeling in control of what happens to your body but not actually being able to keep control or find it in the first place. 

“Dieting” or losing weight will never be satisfying enough because patients with eating disorders are unable to see themselves as they truly are. They are unable to recognize that they are sick and in need of help.

This is true of addiction, too. What starts as social drinking or partying quickly turns into dangerous, uncontrollable behaviors. Addicts, because of factors like family history and co-occurring disorders, are not always able to see the problem until it is too late. As a result, addiction can be deadlyjust as with eating disorders.

Some theories on eating disorders and addiction even argue that having an eating disorder is a type of addiction because of the obsessive behaviors and cyclical nature of limiting food, binging, purging, etc. In this sense, seeking treatment for both disordered eating and substance use disorder is incredibly essential to finding physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

Treating Both Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

In order to treat these co-occurring disorders, patients with eating disorders must find an addiction center that understands the importance of using multiple mental health treatment approaches. The most effective therapies and treatments for these disorders include:

  • Medication evaluation and management
  • Group psychotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Communication skills practice
  • Family education and therapy sessions
  • Recreational therapy
  • Discharge planning and relapse prevention.

In some cases, joining a dual diagnosis program can be extremely useful in treating eating disorders and addiction in addition to other co-occurring disorders. After all, mood disorders, behavioral concerns, and other mental health conditions are even more likely to be present in someone who has these co-occurring disorders.

The takeaway from receiving treatment for eating disorders and addiction is that you truly cannot heal from one without addressing the other. This means that your addiction program should have trained mental health professionals who are ready to help you learn the skills you need to challenge harmful thought patterns and behaviors.

To find the best treatment center for your mental health needs, be sure to look for one that also offers:

  • Nutritional consultations
  • 12-step programs
  • Faith-based care
  • And a program that caters to your experiences and your needs.

Above all else, finding a facility to provide safety, support, and the resources you need to recover from these conditions can truly make the difference between life and death.

Find Long Term Healing at The Blackberry Center

At The Blackberry Center, we offer all of these treatment services and more so that you can work toward your long-term health goals in a safe, comfortable environment. We are here to explain exactly what goes into our mental health and behavioral care as well as the proven treatments we use that can help anyone who struggles with an eating disorder and addiction. 

To learn more, reach out to us by phone at 888-512-9802 or fill out our confidential contact form today. We are here to help you change your relationship to your body for the better!

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