Eating disorders and substance abuse are commonly misconstrued as separate conditions. Nonetheless, those who have overcome this struggle, or are still undergoing counseling, will bear witness to the correlations or overlapping similarities between the two. There are substantive studies that suggest this very dangerous link.
For instance: research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) indicates that up to 35 percent of new substance abusers develop eating disorders. This number is relatively alarming as it indicates a rate which is 11 times higher than the general population. Almost 50% of individuals with eating disorders (especially those with bulimia) tend to succumb to alcohol or substance abuse. This research establishes a clear link of the co-occurrence between eating disorders and substance abuse.
The connection between eating disorders and substance abuse
Since today’s definition of addiction also includes process addiction such as sex, gambling, and food; eating disorders can be regarded as a type of addiction. Moreover, the diagnosis for eating disorders and substance abuse is somewhat similar. Along with diagnosis, the screening for these conditions also has a close resemblance. As professionals with a holistic approach to addiction treatment, we observe:
- Obsessive preoccupation with a substance or food, craving or compulsive behavior
- Ritualistic behavior such as slicing food or preparing a line of cocaine
- Surge in frequency or intensity with continued use
- Giving up on other interests to get a reward from addictive substance/behavior
- Resistance to treatment despite repeated attempts
The similarities between eating disorders and substance abuse are not only limited to their diagnostic criteria and screening. Research indicates similar root causes for these maladies such as:
- Certain chemical processes in the brain
- Certain personality traits
- Cultural and outside influences
- Exposure to emotional traumas
- Environmental triggers
- Family modeling
Eating disorders and substance abuse usually develop in stressful situations as a means to self –medicate certain underlying mental issues such as depression or anxiety, and to cope with emotional trauma. Studies suggest that individuals with a higher rate of depression are more prone to substance abuse or develop eating disorders.
Both eating disorders and substance abuse are chronic conditions with a high relapse rate and resistance to treatment. Therefore, proper care and treatment should be given to patients with more focus on holistic addiction therapies.