Eating Disorders and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

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Eating Disorders and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders


Eating Disorders and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders


Eating disorders and substance use disorders can be co-occurring disorders, meaning an individual can have both disorders at the same time.  An eating disorder includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating, and compulsive eating.  These disorders cause physical and emotional pain both for the individual and their friends and family members.  Researchers are unclear as to the how an eating disorder develops and further unclear how many individuals can eat and not develop an eating disorder.  Psychological factors can play a role in that many with eating disorders have perfectionistic thoughts.  They may feel a need to blame themselves for not being perfect, as they simply cannot live up to the results they want.  Eating disorders affect an individual’s relationships and are often the focus of their perfectionistic tendencies.  This tendency toward perfection can makes a person feel like a failure.


If an individual with an eating disorder feels upset or defeated, the use of drugs might seem appealing.  Drugs and alcohol can provide some relief to negative feelings when the individual is unable to find relief in other ways.  There is research to suggest that some individuals with eating disorders may take drugs to suppress their appetites.  There is such a need to keep from eating or gaining weight that drugs are a viable alternative to feeling hungry much of the time.  If an individual abuses alcohol, they may drink all at once.  Bulimics, who typically engage in purging, will drink alcohol and then purge the alcohol to keep drinking.  Alcohol is also abused due to the worry associated with eating.  Individuals with eating disorders might drink as it relaxes them enough to eat.


According to researchers, those with eating disorders are five times more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs compared to those without an eating disorder.  Thirty-five percent of those with substance-use disorders show evidence of an eating disorder.  One reason for these high percentages could be related to how the drugs and alcohol make one feel about their eating disorder.


Eating disorders take an emotional toll on the individual and self-medicating with drugs or alcohol indicates that individuals are in a great deal of distress.  Co-occurring eating and substance-use disorders require a specialized level of care, as the individual is battling two powerful addictions.  Brain cells may have changed and if treating the eating disorder only, the individual may crave the alcohol or drug during recovery.


There is help available for co-occurring eating and substance-use disorders.  At Cottonwood Tucson, we provide comprehensive care to those individuals with eating disorders and substance-use disorders.  Please call today. (888) 727-0441

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