Eating disorders are conditions that affect a person’s perceptions of their body, weight, and health. As a result, a person may engage in unhealthy behaviors to control their weight, such as vomiting or refraining from eating regular meals.
Different eating disorder types exist. It’s possible that a person can progress from one eating disorder, such as anorexia, to another, such as bulimia. A person may also not recognize their behavior as a true problem that can have deadly effects if left untreated.
Many people don’t understand the true severity of eating disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. In addition to complications from eating disorders, those with the condition also commit suicide.
Eating Disorder Means Skinny
Another misconception about a person with an eating disorder is that the person will be extremely emaciated. While it may be true that some people with eating disorders are extremely underweight, this is not always the case. A person can be a normal weight or overweight and still suffer from an eating disorder.
It’s a Female Issue
Some people also perceive that eating disorders only affect women. It is true that women experience eating disorders in higher numbers than men. However, men experience a greater proportion of binge-eating disorders than when compared to other eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Are Eating Disorders Addictions?
• Exerts Control Over Body
• Receives Positive Social Feedback
• Thinks Nothing is Wrong
• Interferes with Daily Life
• Causes Preoccupation
Substance Use Disorders
• Lost Control Over Substances
• Receives Negative Social Feedback
• Desire to Stop Using
There are also additional similarities between addictions and eating disorders. For example, both substance abuse problems and eating disorders begin in a person’s adolescent years. Also, a person with an eating disorder often becomes so wrapped up in their disorder that their behaviors start to interfere with their activities. For example, a person may become so secretive in restricting their food intake or exercising excessively that they refrain from attending social events. In a similar manner, a person may miss appointments and withdraw from others when they suffer from substance abuse.
Another common aspect between the two conditions is a preoccupation with something. For example, a person who is addicted to a substance is preoccupied with when they can use a substance again. Similarly, a person with an eating disorder is often preoccupied with thinking about how they can “not” eat or obsessing about ways they could binge and purge.
How Often Do Addiction and Eating Disorders Co-Occur?
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, an estimated 50 percent of people with an eating disorder abuse alcohol or illicit drugs. This is a much higher rate of substance abuse than the general population.
Researchers have found that when a person restricts their food, the reinforcement of substance abuse is heightened. A person may find greater pleasure in using substances such as cocaine or methamphetamine when they restrict their food.3 Researchers have also been able to re-create this effect in laboratory rats.
Substances that are most abused by those with eating disorders include:
Differences Between Eating Disorders and Addiction That Impact Recovery
What Are the Most Effective Treatments for Co-Occurring Addiction and Eating Disorders?
What is perhaps most important is that a person and their friends and family understand that addiction and substance abuse treatments require a long-term process.
An estimated 25 percent of people who receive quality treatment will improve in both conditions and do well for the rest of their lives.
An estimated 50 percent will fall into a relapsing and remitting cycle while 25 percent will continue to struggle with their conditions.
Treatments for both substance abuse disorders and eating disorders may involve a combination of medication administration and psychological support. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a popular and often effective approach for treating eating disorders. According to the National Institutes of Health, this is often via a three-pronged approach.
First, a person receives education on an eating disorder as well as how to recognize thoughts and behaviors that could be harmful to a person with an eating disorder. They may also participate in nutritional counseling as well a monitoring.
The second phase is to further challenge a person’s maladaptive behavior and find ways to change their behavior. The third phase involves learning techniques to prevent relapse and continue healthy behaviors.
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