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.
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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.
Eating disorders are psychiatric conditions related to body image, eating, and one’s relationship to food. People with eating disorders often have extremely distorted perceptions of body shape and size, and exhibit extreme eating patterns that range from eating far too much to eating too little to survive.Individuals often simultaneously struggle with an eating disorder and alcohol or drug addiction. When an eating disorder and an alcohol or drug addiction occur together, a person is considered to have a dual diagnosis.In order to avoid complications of both disorders as well as their combination, these individuals are encouraged to seek treatment at a drug rehab or alcohol rehab with a dual diagnosis program.All eating disorders involve a distorted perception of body shape or size, but there are different categories of disorder. Eating disorders are closely related to other types of addictions, such as alcohol and drug addiction. An overview of the different types of eating disorders is presented here.
Addiction and Anorexia Nervosa
The main characteristic of anorexia nervosa is self starvation. Individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa are obsessed with their weight and often fixated upon an ideal weight that is improbable or impossible. Whether it’s using diet pills or alcohol in order to lose weight, anorexia nervosa sufferers are more likely to also have an addiction.
Sufferers of binge eating disorder and bulimia engage in a cycle of binging (overeating in a short time span) followed by purging (forcibly getting rid of the food, usually by vomiting or taking laxatives). Read more about how bulimia sufferers can develop serious medical problems as consequences of their illness, and its relationship to alcoholism and drug addiction.
Compulsive Overeating, Binge Eating and Food Addiction
Compulsive overeaters, food addicts, and binge eaters all suffer from uncontrollable impulses to eat or obsession with food. These are often caused by or accompanied by low self esteem, anxiety, depression, or trauma. Learn more about how these disorders are related to addiction.
Drunkorexia is a slang term referring to a pattern involving starving oneself early in the day, then binge drinking, followed by binge eating. It is a combination of eating disorders and alcohol abuse. Learn about how drunkorexics eat less food at various times in order to “balance” the calories they consume from drinking alcohol.
There are strong similarities between eating disorders and addictions, 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
- Social problems
- Relationship problems
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.
Quality eating disorder treatment addresses any coexisting addiction and utilizes:
- Family based therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Nutritional education and counseling
- Medical care and supervision
- Psychiatric medication management