The Link Between Addiction and Eating Disorders: Cause, Treatment, Recovery

While the symptoms of eating disorders and substance use disorders are dramatically different, they share many similarities.

Evidence suggests that both of these disorders have a strong genetic component and research has shown that they are more likely occur to those with particular personality traits such as impulsivity and/or those who have experienced emotional trauma.

Both eating disorders and addiction are common methods of coping with stress, depression, anxiety, and other difficult emotions and, because of this, they are often considered to be co-occurring.

Along with similar psychological roots, eating disorders and substance use disorders occasionally overlap in the way they are expressed.

Laxatives and diuretics are commonly abused substances by those with eating disorders because of the common misconception that they lead to weight loss.

In reality, these drugs lead to bloating, water retention, and weight gain, which cause the user to increase the dosage.

As the body builds a tolerance to these substances, more is required to achieve the same effect, leading to addiction.

Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis

The Dual Diagnosis of Eating Disorders and Substance Addiction

When substance use disorders and eating disorders are comorbid, they become increasingly dangerous and difficult to recovery from.

Substance abuse exposes and intensifies certain personality traits such as impulsivity and irregular moods, triggering eating disorder relapse.

Along with increasing the likelihood for relapse, substance abuse also presents magnified health risks when co-occurring with eating disorders as it increases the consequences of malnutrition.

In a popular 2003 study, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), found that those with eating disorders are five times more likely than those without eating disorders to abuse alcohol and drugs.

Researchers also found that 35% of those who abused substances have suffered from an eating disorder, an alarming statistic when compared to the 3% of the general population suffering from an eating disorder.

Treating Eating Disorders and Addiction

Treating Eating Disorders and Addiction

With co-morbidity rates this high, it’s essential for addiction rehabilitation programs to offer treatment for eating disorders.

Because both eating disorders and substance use disorders tend to be triggered by similar emotions, they often appear as interchangeable coping mechanisms. If one disorder is treated individually, the other will appear in its place.

By using dual diagnosis treatment, all existing disorders will receive the treatment they need, giving the client the best chance for recovery.

While Alo House Recovery Centers is not licensed to treat eating disorders as the primary presenting issue, our staff is equipped to treat eating disorders when they occur as a dual diagnosis.

If you or a loved one are suffering with these disorders simultaneously, it is essential that both are treated in order to prevent symptom substitution and decrease risk of relapse.