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The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

You have probably come across someone in your life who struggled with either a substance abuse problem or an eating disorder, but what about both?

The numbers do not lie; there is a strong connection between the two. Although both are scary on their own, together the results can be even more tragic. Without proper eating disorders and substance abuse treatment, these problems become even more life-threatening.

At our South Florida addiction treatment center, we know that seeing a loved one struggle with both of these problems can be scary, but they are certainly not alone.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are a form of mental illness that focuses on a preoccupation with food and body weight. There are a few different types of eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. People with eating disorders often have unrealistic and distorted perceptions of their bodies. It is estimated that at least 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder.1 Without help, eating disorders can cause serious health issues and even be life-threatening.

Eating Disorders And Mental Health

Although eating disorders most noticeably affect a person’s physical body, the problem often stems from mental issues. Caralyn of BeautyBeyondBones recounts her own struggle with anorexia, “Eating disorders are typically triggered as the result of some loss of control in a different aspect of life. This will then lead to the clamping down on what she or he can control: their weight, what they eat or don’t eat, the amount of exercise, manipulating people, etc.”

This false control isn’t the only mental struggle that people with eating disorders tend to go through. One study of individuals hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 94% struggled with a mood disorder and 56% had an anxiety disorder.2 That means that in severe cases, most people with an eating disorder also have a mental health disorder.

Eating Disorders & Substance Abuse Comorbidity Statistics

Unfortunately, the problems related to eating disorders often do not stop there. There does seem to be a connection between eating disorders and addiction to drugs or alcohol as different studies show varying degrees of comorbidity between the two. There is no doubt that the two are connected. When a person is struggling with both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse problem, dual diagnosis treatment becomes necessary to address both issues.

One study of individuals hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 22% also qualified as having a substance use disorder.2 The National Eating Disorders Association also states that up to 50% of people with an eating disorder have abused alcohol or illicit drugs, which is a rate 5 times higher than in the general population.3 This isn’t the only alarming statistic between eating disorders and drug addiction. Another study found that almost 1 in 10 patients who struggle with bulimia nervosa also have a substance abuse disorder. The same is true for patients with a binge eating disorder. In particular, these patients seem to struggle with alcohol the most.4 When this occurs, the patient doesn’t just need help for an eating disorder, they typically need to undergo alcohol addiction treatment as well.

Unfortunately, mental health problems like eating disorders and substance abuse can go hand in hand. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction problem, do not wait until these problems become life-threatening.

Call us at Banyan Pompano today at 888-280-4763 to see if we may be able to help you or someone you love.


  1. NCBI - The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication
  2. NCBI - Eating disorders, trauma, PTSD, and psychosocial resources.
  4. NCBI - Psychiatric comorbidity in women and men with eating disorders results from a large clinical database.
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse
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