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Eating disorders are medical conditions that affect your thoughts and behaviors about food and eating. Addiction is a medical condition that affects your thoughts and behaviors about substance use. While both conditions are slowly being destigmatized, less is known about their relationship and how commonly they occur together.

How Do I Know if I Have an Eating Disorder?

People who have eating disorders have thoughts and behaviors surrounding food and eating that severely impact their health. You may eat much more or less than your body needs, or perhaps you eat and then purge what you ate or over-exercise to compensate for your caloric intake.

An eating disorder is a serious mental health condition that can cause depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Eating disorders also cause serious physical health issues due to malnutrition, including heart and kidney problems and even death.

What Are the Different Types of Eating Disorders?

There are various types of eating disorders. Some of the most common types are:

  • Anorexia nervosa: This disorder involves food avoidance, severe food restriction, or only eating minimal amounts of specific foods. Individuals with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight even when seriously underweight. Although less common, anorexia nervosa has the highest mental health disorder mortality rate.
  • Bulimia nervosa: Bulimia nervosa is binge-eating followed by purging through self-induced vomiting or using laxatives. Those with this disorder may also exercise excessively or fast and can be underweight, normal weight, or overweight.
  • Binge-eating disorder: This type involves eating despite being full and out of control, often accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame, and distress. Frequently coupled with weight gain and obesity, it is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.
  • Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID): This classification involves severely limiting the type or amount of food eaten. Often seen in middle childhood, a child with this disorder does not eat enough calories to grow and develop properly. Symptoms include dramatic weight loss, lack of appetite or interest in food, upset stomach or abdominal pain, and a limited range of preferred foods.

How Commonly Do Eating Disorders Occur With Addiction?

According to one government report on eating disorders and substance abuse, up to 50 percent of people with an eating disorder also have a substance use disorder, compared to only nine percent of the general population who abuse substances. This means half of those with an eating disorders also struggle with addiction.

The connection goes the opposite way, as well. Up to 35% of those with a substance use disorder also have an eating disorder, contrasted with only three percent of the general population who have an eating disorder. Addiction and eating disorders are inherently linked mental health disorders.

What Types of Substances Do People With Eating Disorders Abuse?

There are no limitations to the substances people abuse with an eating disorder, but there are many substances that are commonly linked, including:

  • Caffeine
  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin

Over-the-counter medications frequently abused by people with eating disorders include:

  • Appetite suppressants
  • Diuretics
  • Laxatives
  • Emetics

Many common or illicit substances are known as appetite suppressants or cause weight loss, sometimes even severe weight loss, as a side effect of the drug. All of these over-the-counter medications are meant to curb eating or help purge food to prevent weight gain.

How Can I Get Help for Addiction and an Eating Disorder?

Due to the strong connection between addiction and eating disorders, many addiction treatment centers also offer treatment for eating disorders. Included in that treatment will be medical monitoring and care to address current physical needs. Also included should be personalized nutrition counseling. 

Understanding what a healthy weight is for your body type and how to achieve that weight is vital to your healing. Often, it is not worrying about a balanced diet we hear so much about. For those with an eating disorder, it means changing your thinking patterns about food and eating the proper amounts and less about what you are eating.

You may also be prescribed medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or antipsychotics to treat eating disorders or co-occurring depression and anxiety that can occur with addiction and eating disorders. These are critical to help stabilize your condition and allow you to access the therapeutic help you need to heal from both an eating disorder and a substance use disorder.

Most importantly, you will receive individual, group, and likely family therapy to help you identify and change negative thoughts, build coping skills, and change behavioral patterns for both the eating disorder and addiction. Through therapy, you will also learn skills such as mindfulness and relapse prevention techniques that will help strengthen your mind.

Eating disorders and addiction occur together far too often and can be very destructive in your life. Given the dangers of both eating disorders and substance use disorders, it is crucial to seek help immediately for simultaneous treatment. Healing is possible with both medical treatment and therapy to change negative thought patterns and address both disorders together. West Coast Recovery Centers is dedicated to helping you heal from addiction and eating disorders. Our outpatient programs are designed to help you heal and transition back into healthy routines. We treat both eating disorders and substance use disorders and help you find the path that best fits your healing process. We offer evidence-based and holistic modalities so that you have many options as to how you heal. Contact us today at (760) 492-6509 to find out how we can help you begin your healing process.

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