The Link Between Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders

The Link Between Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders

Both substance abuse and eating disorders are illnesses that can have a strong, negative impact on the individual’s life. While these two conditions seem to be unrelated at first glance, there is actually a noted link between them. This blog will discuss the same.

What is an eating disorder?

All of our actions are motivated by the desire to feel good about ourselves. Our self-esteem represents how we perceive and judge ourselves based on what others might think or say; therefore, it is a very subjective factor. If you have low self-esteem, you will try to control everything and everyone around you in order to feel good about yourself.

An eating disorder can be described as a condition where someone restricts food intake in an attempt to lose weight or adopt the perfect body shape. In addition, some individuals develop eating disorders as a result of the inability to handle stress effectively. Thus, as much as what we eat plays an important role in how we look, it is also true that our mental and emotional state has an effect on our eating habits.

The link between substance abuse and eating?

There is clearly a correlation between substance abuse and eating disorders. Those suffering from an eating disorder are likely to be frequent users of alcohol and other drugs. Why? Alcohol, for example, can decrease inhibitions and induce feelings of euphoria or calmness – both of which are conducive to the comfort and relief that many people with eating disorders seek in food. On the other hand, cocaine can decrease appetite (which is a side effect of some medications used to treat bulimia), and methamphetamine (“crystal,” “ice”) may cause intense cravings for sweet foods.

Signs of Eating Disorders and Addiction

The early signs of eating disorders are the same as those of substance abuse. The person concerned begins to withdraw from family and friends and also shows a marked increase in irritability, anxiety, fatigue, and depression. These are some warning signs that you might be suffering from an intertwined eating disorder and substance abuse:

  • Dramatic changes in weight or appetite. (Including going to the bathroom immediately after meals)
  • Overeating when you do consume food, especially if you hide it from others.
  • Eating normally around other people but binging or purging when you are alone.
  • Difficulty concentrating because of anxiety and/or depression.
  • Repeatedly checking on weight and appearance in mirrors or seeking reassurance from others about your appearance.
  • Dieting even if you’re not overweight. (You may have unrealistic ideas about how much you should weigh.)
  • Taking diet pills, laxatives, water pills, or other supplements that aren’t prescribed by your doctor. (Or abusing drugs such as amphetamines.)

Types Of Eating Disorders Associated with Substance Abuse

  1. Anorexia Nervosa: The person suffering from anorexia nervosa usually refuses to maintain a healthy body weight. The causes of this disorder are very complex and diverse. However, some of the reasons why people develop anorexia include low self-esteem, depression, perfectionism, anxiety, poor decision-making capabilities, amongst others. Therefore, food addict recovery treatments are important.
  2. Bulimia Nervosa: People suffering from bulimia nervosa goes through periods of binging (consuming unusually large amounts of food) and purging (attempting to rid the body of calories). This behaviour is often secretive because the individual feels ashamed of it. Purging can be done through self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, or excessive exercising.
  3. Binge Eating Disorder: People with binge-eating disorders eat large amounts of food in a short period of time. Unlike bulimic patients, however, they do not attempt to purge the food from their bodies through vomiting or excessive exercise.

In cases where individuals abuse substances such as alcohol, they tend to lose their appetite, this leads to slow loss of weight, and these are often associated with anorexia among women and bulimia for men. In such individuals, there is a high risk that they will eventually start using drugs that are known to increase appetite and, in turn, lead to weight gain, eventually leading to obesity. There is also the link between eating disorders and drug abuse which usually leads to over-eating or binge eating.

Treatment Of Substance Abuse in Patients with Eating Disorders

Substance abuse is present in at least 50% of the patients with eating disorders, and as a result, these two are often intertwined and difficult to separate. Effective treatment of one disorder requires attention to the other. However, many patients are unwilling or unable to seek help for their eating disorder at first. Therefore, there is a need to focus on substance abuse treatment (for example, through addiction counselling) before the underlying eating problems can be addressed effectively.