Addiction is a hard battle to fight, and coping with a comorbid disorder only increases the severity of hardships. Possible comorbid disorders that individuals might face in substance abuse recovery include eating disorders. Family-Centered Services wants families to know that there is help available when an individual is struggling with the reality of managing an eating disorder and an addiction.

What Is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are a category of mental illness characterized by food and weight. Different eating disorders have different characteristics, but they all have one thing in common: The affected individual has an abnormal relationship with their body and food intake that creates physical and mental health issues in addition to social problems. Eating disorders most frequently impact adolescent girls and young women, but they are certainly not the only demographic that can be affected. 

Anorexia Nervosa

One type of eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. Individuals with anorexia nervosa will significantly restrict their food intake due to a fear of gaining weight. These fears and behaviors persist even when a person is objectively underweight due to a distorted view of their body. The symptoms that typically occur with anorexia nervosa include:

  • Limiting the amount and type of food one eats
  • Anxiety surrounding the idea of gaining weight
  • Staying in denial about the true state of one’s body
  • Being underweight and emaciated
  • Engaging in exercise in a compulsive manner
  • Developing physical health complications like lowered blood pressure and pulse, anemia, weakness, constipation, osteoporosis or osteopenia, fatigue, intolerance to the cold, the loss of a menstrual period, and organ damage

Bulimia Nervosa

Another type of eating disorder is bulimia nervosa. This disorder causes individuals to swing between two extremes. On the one end, an individual will eat large amounts of food in one sitting, referred to as binging. Binges are often associated with physical and emotional discomfort rather than pleasure. Someone with bulimia nervosa feels like they are not able to control these binges. In order to compensate for this binge eating, the individual will engage in certain compensatory behaviors such as vomiting, food restriction, or laxative use. Similar to anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa produces preoccupation with weight gain and body image. Some additional symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Tooth decay
  • Dehydration
  • Inflammation and soreness of the throat
  • Gastrointestinal issues like acid reflux
  • Complications such as stroke or heart attack

Binge-Eating Disorder

A third type of eating disorder that is important to note is binge-eating disorder. Just as someone with bulimia nervosa will quickly consume a large quantity of food, a person with binge-eating disorder will do the same, but they will not compensate for this behavior through vomiting or laxative use. 

While those with bulimia nervosa can occur anywhere on the spectrum from underweight to overweight, individuals with binge-eating disorder are more often overweight. They tend to engage in episodes of binging alone and feel ashamed of their behavior. Some individuals with this disorder will try to go on diets, but will often not experience weight loss as a result.

How Are Eating Disorders Tied to Addiction?

While addiction and eating disorders are two very distinct classes of psychiatric illness, they share some similar characteristics. One factor they share is how dangerous they are. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), opioid abuse and co-occurring anorexia nervosa cause the most deaths out of any mental illness. Additionally, eating disorders are typically composed of secretive behaviors and are associated with great amounts of shame. These experiences are also common when an individual has an addiction. An eating disorder can also exacerbate addiction, as taking care of one’s body is a crucial component of recovery. 

Dispelling Misconceptions

There are very prevalent misconceptions about both addiction and eating disorders. Many people who do not understand the seriousness of eating disorders may believe that food-related behaviors are merely choices. For example, one might wonder, “If a person is rapidly losing weight because of anorexia nervosa, why would they not just start eating again?” or  “When drug or alcohol use gets out of hand and is causing problems for an individual, why would they not just quit using?” These are obviously misconceptions, as someone with an addiction is not able to control their substance use and a person with an eating disorder is unable to simply revert back to normal eating patterns. If it were that simple to heal from an eating disorder or addiction, they would not be classified as disorders and, therefore, would not require an intentional treatment and recovery process. 

Pursuing Professional Treatment for Addiction and a Co-occurring Eating Disorder

It is important for individuals impacted by these conditions to get the professional help they need to heal. When these conditions occur together, it is especially crucial to pursue treatment. Comorbidity between substance abuse and other mental illness is not uncommon. There is an especially strong like between addiction and eating disorders, as a study from Current Drug Abuse Reviews revealed that 17% of participants who were in treatment for an eating disorder were also struggling with an addiction. Furthermore, 27% of individuals living with anorexia nervosa also report substance abuse. 

Finding a treatment team that can provide interventions for comorbid conditions will make all the difference in an individual’s recovery success. Fortunately, Family-Centered Services is well-equipped to treat addiction and co-occurring disorders through comprehensive, familial approaches to care.

Comorbid disorders are a reality with substance abuse. They require careful care and attention so that you and your family can succeed in recovery. Family-Centered Services offers each family an individualized approach to recovery and can help you to find the support you need. Our treatment placement consultation services are designed to find the right environment for you to start your journey, and our sober companion transport will help you get there. The individual, family therapy, and case management services we offer provide a continuum of support for each member of the family, and our sober monitoring services are designed to promote continued accountability. Call us at (509) 991-5822 to learn more and get started.