Substance abuse and eating disorders may occur alongside each other, especially among individuals with disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Both addiction and eating disorders alone can cause complex physical, psychological, and social problems in addition to an increased risk of death. When they occur together, these risks are elevated.
Keep reading to better understand how these two disorders are linked and how our Philadelphia eating disorder clinic and drug rehab can help.
Is an Eating Disorder an Addiction?
Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa are characterized by severe disturbances in eating behavior. Each type and subtype of an eating disorder may be marked by different symptoms. For instance, people with anorexia nervosa restricting type may severely restrict how much food they eat and turn to dieting, fasting, or excessive exercising for weight loss, while people with purging type of anorexia nervosa may restrict their food intake while also engaging in recurrent episodes of binge eating or purging (such as self-induced vomiting and misuse of laxatives).
Additionally, many people with anorexia nervosa of the restrictive type have comorbid disorders like anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and avoidant or obsessive-compulsive personality disorders. On the other hand, people with the purging type of anorexia show comorbidity of affective disorders, addiction, personality disorders, and borderline personality disorder.1
While there’s a link between substance abuse and eating disorders, an eating disorder is not an addiction. Rather, an individual with an eating disorder may engage in addictive behaviors, which could lead to the development of other habits, such as drug or alcohol use.
Connection Between Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse
Eating disorders and substance abuse comorbidity are linked through shared symptoms. In other words, people with eating disorders may display behaviors like those of people with substance use disorders, although the subject itself is food or eating rather than drugs or alcohol.
Like people with addictions, people with eating disorders may display symptoms like:
- Permanent preoccupation with food and eating
- Withdrawal symptoms
- A continuation of disturbed eating patterns despite repercussions
- Loss of control
- Frequent relapse
According to research, up to 50% of people with eating disorders abuse drugs and alcohol, compared to 9% of the general population. Similarly, 35% of people with substance use disorders report having an eating disorder, compared with a 1% to 3% prevalence of eating disorders in the general population.2
Substances most abused by people with eating disorders include alcohol, amphetamines, heroin, and cocaine. In addition to shared behaviors, many individuals with eating disorders abuse drugs or alcohol either to cope with mental health struggles or to promote weight loss.
For instance, substances like amphetamines, heroin, and cocaine all promote weight loss. Alongside alcohol, amphetamines, heroin, and cocaine all have a high potential for abuse and addiction.
There’s also a condition referred to as drunkorexia. This isn’t an official medical term, but it refers to altering eating behaviors to either offset the caloric intake from alcohol or to increase the effect of alcohol. This is a common and dangerous habit that can develop among people with eating disorders and alcoholism.
It’s understandable why someone with an eating disorder may become addicted to drugs or alcohol if they’ve misused them to cope with symptoms or as compensatory behavior that promotes weight loss or prevents weight gain. If you or someone you care about has displayed signs of drug use or eating disorder symptoms, don’t wait to get help, as both conditions can be life-threatening.
Eating Disorder and Substance Abuse Treatment at Banyan
Due to the high comorbidity of substance abuse and eating disorders, our Philadelphia addiction rehab always performs a thorough clinical assessment for patients in our eating disorder program to determine whether they may have a comorbid addiction. Our facility offers various levels of eating disorder treatment, including programs for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and others.