Understanding the Connection Between Eating Disorders and Addiction

Eating disorder and addictions may have more of a correlation than most people think. While they do affect both sexes, women are the primary victims of disordered eating and substance abuse. They cause a tremendous amount of physical and psychological pain, which women often attempt to self-medicate with substances.

If you’re a woman who is suffering from an eating disorder and drug addiction or alcoholism, you’re not alone. You also don’t need to go through this challenging time by yourself. However, it is very important for you to get the right kind of help.

When disordered eating and addiction occur side by side, this is called having a co-occurring disorder. This type of issue requires specialized treatment for recovery to take place. It’s not enough to treat one condition and ignore the other, even for the short-term. Dual diagnosis treatment can make a big difference in your life and in your healing.

What is the Link Between Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse?

For women who suffer with this type of condition, they prefer to keep it to themselves. There is a great deal of shame involved, and they’re usually not willing to share about it with others. This includes even going to a doctor to get help.

eating disorders and addiction

As a result, women with eating disorders will often turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope. Drinking or using substances allows them to escape how they feel, even if it’s just for a short time. Almost 50% of women with disordered eating also suffer from addictions as well.

Research has also shown that women in this group are very likely to have a history of trauma. Changing your eating patterns and using substances can provide them with temporary relief from that pain. There’s no doubt that addiction and eating disorders have an undeniable connection.

Research tells us that eating disorders and alcohol use disorder are very common. In fact, this condition might be more common than disordered eating and drug use. Women with this co-occurring disorder usually suffer from other psychiatric issues as well. Personality disorders are not unusual, and other problems may be present as well.

Alcohol has a way of making you feel numb when you drink in excess. Women suffering from EDs, may struggle to cope with how they feel. The secrecy of their conditions drives them to drink just to feel more normal.

It is unfortunate that people tend to view eating disorders and drug addiction as separate issues. It’s quite normal for them to overlap. In fact, research tells us that as much as 35% of drug abusers also battle eating disorders. This is compared to only 3% of the general population.

There are many potential causes for a woman to turn to drugs when she has an eating disorder. Some of these include:

  • Chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Family dynamics
  • Messages from the media
  • Various environmental triggers
  • A history of emotional trauma

It’s also quite common for EDs and drug dependency to develop during times of increased stress. Many women will use both in an effort to self-medicate depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. Both are chronic brain diseases that require long-term therapy.

What are Eating Disorders?

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, and eating disorder is a serious and often fatal illness. It causes significant disturbances to a person’s normal eating behaviors. Women with eating disorders will typically:

  • Become obsessed with food.
  • Become obsessed with their body weight.
  • Constantly think about their body shapes.
  • Frequently compare themselves to other women.
  • Be unable to see the changes that are taking place in themselves as a result of disordered eating.

When you have an eating disorder, it completely takes over your life. You may find it difficult to think about anything other than food and exercise.

Types of Disordered Eating

There are several eating disorder types. Some of these are more common than others. However, they are all very dangerous.

Bulimia nervosa is often referred to as simply, bulimia. Women who suffer from bulimia will eat a lot of food in one sitting. When they’re finished, they will try to get rid of the food, usually by vomiting. Sometimes they will take laxatives or exercise more than they normally would. Occasionally, women will try to counteract a binge by fasting for a period of time afterwards.

This eating disorder is one that many women are familiar with, and it’s one of the most common. It is characterized by eating very little food. This results in an unhealthy amount of weight loss. Women suffering from anorexia will become dangerously thin, yet they can’t see it. They may look in the mirror and think that they’re overweight or fat.

Women with anorexia have a serious health problem that could eventually result in death. The risk of this condition being fatal is very high.

This condition is often called avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, or ARFID. This is an eating disorder and a feeding disorder. Women with this condition will restrict the types of food they eat, based on a few different factors they choose. For example, they may refuse to eat foods based on:

  • Its appearance
  • Its smell
  • Its taste
  • Its texture
  • Its presentation

Sometimes women will have had a negative experience with a food in the past, or they may think they have. This can cause them to restrict that particular food as well.

Diuretics are commonly abused in women with eating disorders. These are pills that women take to remove excess water from the body. The use of them is very common in women with bulimia nervosa. Their use puts an incredible amount of strain on the kidneys, and they can result in dehydration.

Women who use laxatives and enemas are trying to push food through their bodies quickly. They often believe that by using them, they can prevent most calories from being absorbed after they eat. A doctor should only recommend the use of these medications for medical purposes. They also don’t work the way that women intend them to, and can be fatal with prolonged use.

Do You Have an Eating Disorder? Know the Symptoms

Not every woman with an eating disorder knows that she has one. Maybe that’s how you feel as well. You may know that your relationship with food isn’t as healthy as it could be. However, you would never go so far as to think that you suffered from a disorder.

It’s very important to know if you have an eating disorder. If you do, you need to get help. This eating disorder quiz might offer you some insight into your condition.

You may also want to start by looking at some of the more typical signs and symptoms of an eating disorder. They include:

  • Feeling preoccupied with food
  • Experiencing dramatic weight loss
  • Excessive exercising
  • Getting constipated or having diarrhea
  • Having body dysmorphia
  • Wearing loose clothes to hide weight loss
  • Refusing to eat certain foods for a number of reasons
  • Avoiding mealtimes or refusing to eat in front of others
  • Instances of binging and purging
  • Complaining about being fat
  • Constantly being on a diet
  • Hoarding or hiding large amounts of food

If you can relate to any of the items on this list, you probably do have an eating disorder. This is very serious, and if you are suffering from one of these conditions, you need to get help immediately.

Eating Disorder Statistics in the U.S.

Most women don’t realize how common eating disorders are. According to the Department of Mental Health in South Carolina:

  • Around 8 million people in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder.
  • This breaks down to 7 million women and 1 million men.
  • About one in 200 American women have anorexia.
  • Out of every 100 women in the United States, two to three suffer from bulimia.
  • About half of the people in our country know someone with an eating disorder.
  • Out of all mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rates.
  • As many as 10% of those with anorexia will die within ten years.
  • As many as 20% of them will die after 20 years.
  • Only 30-40% of people with anorexia will ever fully recover.
  • Anorexia’s mortality rate is 12 times higher than the death rate for all causes of death for women between 15 and 24 years old.
  • Complications from anorexia, such as suicide and heart conditions, will result in death for 20% of people.
  • Sadly, only 1 out of 10 women with eating disorders will get the help they need to recover.
  • 80% of women who have gotten treatment for eating disorders did not get adequate care.

These statistics are shocking, and yet, they point to the fact that eating disorders are very serious. Too many women downplay what they’re experiencing, or they attempt to self-medicate their eating disorders with addictions. If this is what you have been doing, please seek help.

The Effects of Disordered Eating on the Body

If you have anorexia, bulimia or another condition, the effects will be evident. You may notice that:

  • Your pulse is slower than it should be.
  • You easily get panic attacks or suffer from anxiety.
  • You have symptoms of depression.
  • Your hair and nails are brittle.
  • Your skin is yellow and/or dry.
  • You are losing muscle tone.
  • Your bones are becoming weak.
  • You suffer from extreme mood swings.
  • Your tooth enamel begins to erode.
  • You may lose teeth.
  • You suffer from stomach pain.

What’s more, you may eventually develop heart problems, calcium deficiency, brain damage and a host of other issues. This is why it’s so important to get help for your eating disorder right away.

How Can Dual Diagnosis Treatment Help Women With Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse Problems?

It’s very important to get help for your co-occurring disorder. This is often referred to as dual diagnosis treatment. This type of care ensures that both conditions are being treated, and neither is being ignored.

The goal of any good addiction rehab is to address the underlying cause of the addiction. In your case, it would be your eating disorder. If you don’t address the cause, both the addiction and the disordered eating patterns will continue. Research has demonstrated that to be a fact.

In order to properly treat your eating disorder, it must be determined what caused it. Maybe you suffer from anxiety, or perhaps you have a history of PTSD. Regardless of what it is, your therapist’s job will be to understand it. Once they do, they can begin the process of treating you the right way. In doing so, your addictive behaviors will also be addressed. You’ll learn better coping skills and you’ll also learn how to avoid relapsing.

How to Find Dual Diagnosis Treatment Near You

If you suffer from an eating disorder and addiction, getting help is vital. You would be giving yourself a wonderful gift that could potentially change your entire life. At Women’s Recovery, we would love to be a part of your recovery.

We understand that many of the issues that women face in addictions are unique to them. They often have varying circumstances and challenges that men usually don’t. That’s why they need a unique approach to drug and alcohol treatment. We offer outpatient services and sober living opportunities for women who need them. We’re confident that you’ll find our facility relaxing and inviting as you recover.

Do you suffer from an eating disorder and substance abuse? Talk to us about it right away by contacting us today.