The Dangerous Combination of Drug Addiction and Eating Disorders

January 16, 2015

A person standing on a scale with a measuring tape wrapped around their ankles

A lot of people that struggle with drug addiction feel like their lives are spiraling out of control. In order to regain a sense of stability, some people try to manipulate the parts of their lives that they can control, or they turn to what makes them feel most comfortable in the moment. The desire to feel in control or to engage in a comforting activity sometimes manifests itself in an eating disorder, in which people eat in extremely unhealthy patterns. These disorders rarely give patients any sense of relief from their problems, but they frequently intensify any feelings of powerlessness. Since using drugs and eating food in specific ways only offer temporary relief to someone’s underlying issues, and since both problems can be life-threatening if left untreated, it’s essential for people with both conditions to seek out professional help immediately.

Eating Disorder Symptoms

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders estimates that more than 11 million Americans struggle with eating disorders. These disorders are commonly classified into one of three categories: anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder. John M. Grohol explains that each type of eating disorder has specific characteristics.

Someone with anorexia nervosa tends to exude the following issues:

  • Starves herself
  • Is at least 15% underweight
  • Feels a strong connection between her self-worth and her body’s weight, size and shape
  • Has an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming overweight
Someone with bulimia may behave in the following ways:

  • Binge eats a minimum of two times a month over a period of at least three months
  • Can have any range of weight, but usually is within the normal range
  • Is extremely self-conscious of her body and weight, and frequently diets
  • Works hard to get rid of the food she has eaten either by vomiting, using medications (such as laxatives or diuretics), by fasting or by exercising too much
Someone with a binge eating disorder will have the following problems:

  • Feeling out of control when eating food
  • Frequently eating abnormally large amounts of food
  • Eating even when not hungry or when extremely full
  • Feeling guilty, disgusted or depressed after eating too much
If you or a loved one struggles with any of these issues, then seek help as soon as possible.

What Problems Co-occur with Eating Disorders?

People who struggle with both an eating disorder and a substance addiction have co-occurring disorders, which means they have two or more mental health issues at the same time. SAMHSA’s 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health finds that about 8.4 million American adults have co-occurring disorders. Of these people, thousands are struggling specifically with eating disorders and substance addiction. All co-occurring disorders are dangerous, but the combination of a drug addiction and an eating disorder can be especially serious for the following reasons:

  • The eating disorder makes the body weaker and less healthy, making it more likely that drug use will cause negative side effects
  • Drug use can intensify the eating disorder, making users feel stronger desires to engage in the harmful eating behavior
  • The eating disorder can be camouflaged by the drug use, as the person may take drugs and forget whether she has eaten in unhealthy ways

Seek help to address both of these issues at the same time, as they can exacerbate and lead to a relapse in each other.

Find Help for Addiction and an Eating Disorder

Drug addictions and eating disorders are both life-threatening conditions on their own, but they can significantly increase the risks of serious harm and death when combined. If you or a loved one is struggling with both a drug addiction and an eating disorder, know that help is available and recovery is possible. Give us a call at 615-490-9376 to learn more about treatment for co-occurring disorders.

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