Eating Disorders and Addiction

Eating disorders are distorted attitudes toward the body and an abnormal relationship to food. Sufferers can go to great extremes to force their bodies to conform to an unhealthy ideal or, alternatively, cannot control their eating and suffer the medical and social consequences of obesity. These extreme eating behaviors are often an attempt to cope with underlying emotional or psychiatric disorders. Untreated, eating disorders cause great physical harm and may lead to death. Eating disorders are closely related to alcohol and drug addiction and can co-exist.

If you suffer from an eating disorder and are abusing drugs and alcohol you need help. Treatment works. Lives can be reclaimed. Call Recovery Connection now at 866-812-8231, and find a treatment program right for your needs. Our helpline is open 24/7, all calls are confidential and free of charge.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are psychiatric conditions that require medical treatment. People with eating disorders often have extremely distorted perceptions of body shape, size, and poor self esteem. Typically, one who suffers from an eating disorder also has issues with attempting to control their environment, and/or an inherent lack of internal emotional regulation.

As a result, eating disordered patients have unhealthy and extreme eating behaviors. These behaviors range from eating too much, to not eating enough to live, to eating large amounts of food in a short period and then purging the meal to prevent the absorption of calories. Someone with an eating disorder might overeat, binge eat, purge after overeating, exercise too much, not eat enough, or use drugs and alcohol to keep his or her weight down.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), girls and women are much more likely to have an eating disorder. Teenage girls who regularly diet are especially vulnerable. Societal pressure to be thin, psychological or emotional distress, or family attitudes toward food can all lead a young woman toward unhealthy eating patterns.

Common Eating Disorders

People with restricting types of eating disorders limit the amount of food they consume in a day. Anorexics, for example, will progressively consume less food, or stop eating altogether. At the other extreme, patients with a binge eating followed by purging type of eating disorder will consume large amounts of food and then eliminate the food forcibly. For example, after eating an entire meatloaf in one sitting, a bulimic may proceed to the bathroom to induce vomiting shortly after consumption. Finally, there are those who binge eat or consistently overeat in order to manage their emotions, without subsequent purging, which can lead to severe obesity.

Learn more about each eating disorder’s signs, symptoms, dangers, and treatment:

Eating Disorders, Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

There is a strong connection between eating disorders and other types of addiction, such as alcoholism and drug addiction. Some anorexics abuse alcohol and then skip meals to stay thin. This trend, drunkorexia, is growing on college campuses nationwide. Female college students with this disorder over exercise and/or under eat to stay “skinny” and be able to drink in excess.

It is not uncommon to have a co-existing eating disorder along with a drug dependenceor alcohol dependence. Further, getting treatment for a alcoholism and drug addiction, without concurrent treatment for the eating disorder, can worsen the severity of the eating disorder, and vice versa. This fact may be most evident in an obese patient who undergoes bariatric surgery and subsequently loses a significant amount of weight. Without proper psychological treatment, the same person may then increase his or her use of other unhealthy behaviors, such as an increase in alcohol or drug use.

In general, drug addiction and alcoholism afflicts almost half of eating disorder sufferers, but only 9% of the U.S. population; and, only 3% of the people in the U.S. have an eating disorder compared to 35% of addicts. Opiate, stimulant, depressant, and alcohol abuse in this case is often an attempt to cover the emotional distress that comes with an eating disorder. Without eating disorder treatment, this population has an increased risk for:

  • Digestive distress
  • Kidney, liver, heart, and respiratory failure
  • Bone loss
  • Tooth decay or loss
  • Skin problems
  • Excess body hair or hair loss
  • Death
  • Social problems
  • Relationship problems

Eating Disorder Warning Signs

Could I have an eating disorder? Common signs and symptoms are:

  • Being constantly on a diet
  • Abusing food and/or exercise
  • Insisting on eating differently or special meals
  • Feeling stressed if unable to exercise
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, social activities
  • Paying careful attention to weight, frequent weighing
  • Going to the bathroom after eating to throw-up or take laxatives

In general, drug or alcohol addiction afflicts almost half of eating disorder sufferers.

If any of these sound familiar, you or someone you love might need eating disorder treatment.

Eating Disorder Treatment

Quality eating disorder treatment addresses any coexisting addiction and utilizes:

  • Family based therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Nutritional education and counseling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medical care and supervision
  • Psychiatric medication management

Looking For Treatment?

Eating disorders treatment you can get better. Call any time, day or night, at 866-812-8231 and ask a trained coordinator to help you find an eating disorder and addiction treatment program that works for you. All calls are confidential.

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Related Content:

Page Links

  • Compulsive Overeating, Binge Eating and Substance Abuse
    The inability to control one’s intake of food is called compulsive overeating. Binge eating is also associated with an addiction to food. When combined with substance abuse, these problems become unmanageable.
  • Addiction and Bulimia Nervosa
    Bulimia nervosa involves binge eating combined with purging. Learn the signs and symptoms, problems of substance abuse and the hope that treatment provides.