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Anorexia Nervosa and Addiction

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that afflicts males and females. In general, onset begins at adolescence, but it can start at any age. It is often found in individuals suffering from a mental health disorder and a substance abuse. The earlier diagnosis and treatment are obtained, the better the outcomes.

If you are suffering from anorexia nervosa and you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, treatment can help you break free. Regain your life now, call Recovery Connection and speak with a trained coordinator. 866-812-8231.

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Self-starvation is the main characteristic of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that is life-threatening that can lead to death if not treated. Sufferers of anorexia nervosa have an extreme preoccupation with weight gain or weight loss. They are fixated upon a distorted body image that leads them to compulsively exercise, obsessive use of laxatives, and fear of eating too much. Attempting to control external and internal factors plays a major role in the development of anorexia nervosa.

Traditionally, anorexia nervosa was experienced by Caucasian teenage girls. However, the disorder can now be found world wide affecting adolescent girls and boys. Generally, this eating disorder is attributable to a lack of control in the world. Food becomes the focus, as what goes into a person’s mouth can be controlled. Often, sufferers of anorexia nervosa will experience feelings of:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness

There is new evidence that there is a genetic and environmental component of the disorder, as it seems to run in families. Also, there may be some hormonal imbalance link associated with the onset of the disorder as hormones are responsible for mood, appetite, thought processes and memory.

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

Typically, children in their early teens begin to manifest signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa. While the onset of the disorder, extreme weight loss may be obvious, the co-morbidity of mental health disorders and substance abuse may make an accurate diagnosis more challenging. While not everyone will display the same signs or symptoms these are some of the most commonly seen:

  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Feeling fat despite being underweight
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Connection between body weight and self-esteem
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Social withdrawal
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Anemia
  • Constipation
  • Swollen joints
  • Infrequent menstrual periods in females
  • Regular use of laxatives or diuretics

Anorexia and Drug Addiction

There is a link between anorexia and drug addiction that is medically related to substance abuse that causes a debilitating weight loss due to a mental health illness. The psychiatric diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, which is focused upon weight gain or loss, should also look for links between anorexia and alcohol addiction.

Like anorexia, substance abuse and mental health disorders, or dual diagnosis, can also lease to suicidal ideation. The person’s desire for death is closely tied to the substance abuse and mental health issues. Suicidal symptoms may manifest as a refusal to eat due to a desire to end one’s life by starvation.

It is common for those who are afflicted with anorexia nervosa to also have alcoholism or drug addiction. Each disorder can be greatly influenced by the other, and concurrent dual diagnosis treatment is warranted. Treatment for either disorder alone is likely to result in a worsening of the symptoms of the untreated disorder.

A report from CASA, Columbia University’s center for research on substance abuse and eating disorders indicated that “Individuals with eating disorders are up to five times likelier to abuse alcohol or illicit drugs and those who abuse alcohol or illicit drugs are up to 11 times likelier to have eating disorders.”

Many sufferers of anorexia nervosa also suffer from addiction to caffeine, tobacco, OTC drugs, laxatives, and diuretics

The two disorders, eating disorders and substance abuse have the same impact on the brain’s neurotransmitters, influencing dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. Many sufferers of anorexia nervosa also suffer from addiction to caffeine, tobacco, OTC drugs, laxatives, and diuretics. An addiction to laxative and diuretics must be treated under close medical supervision in order for an individualized detox plan to be formulated and safely implemented.

It is important to find a treatment facility that can address the substance abuse and mental health disorders and the anorexia nervosa concurrently.

Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa

Early diagnosis and anorexia nervosa treatment can produce positive outcomes. Depending upon the severity of the symptoms, hospitalization may or may not be required. In some cases, hospitalization may also require the use of a feeding tube that will slowly provide the minerals, nutrients, and calories that have been deficient in the sufferer of anorexia nervosa. Often, severe anorexia can cause organ damage, which will require the treatment services provided by a multispecialty medical team, such as nephrology, cardiology, and gastrointestinal services.

A variety of therapeutic modalities may be employed to help the sufferer obtain anorexia recovery. In the case of patients with mental health disorders, treatment must also address depression, anxiety, and other obsessions or fears. There has been some success with the use of medications for the mental health aspect of the disorder. Breaking the resistance to food and eating healthy is crucial. Since most people begin anorexia in their youth, new research indicates that when families are directly engaged in helping their child eat as well as helping them develop healthy eating habits, positive outcomes are increased along with the strong possibility of anorexia recovery.

These modalities include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Family therapy

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