An eating disorder is an illness experienced by people who typically become preoccupied with food and body weight. These individuals will have an unhealthy relationship with food and focus their thoughts and emotions around their eating behavior. 

Those with common types of eating disorders will usually restrict how much and how often they can eat. Conversely, some cannot control their eating habits and eat too much. 

An eating disorder can be categorized with addiction because of the lifestyle habits that are adopted. Those who adopt eating disorders will start to perform a routine, much like addicts, in their eating and digestion habits.

Addiction to food and eating patterns does not fall under willpower but relies on a dopamine signal that affects the biochemistry of the brain. 

Eating Disorders and The Media’s Influence

Recognizing the effects of eating disorders can be difficult, especially with mass media and the idea of certain media images, like the body. The current social pressure to look thin may be attributed to the spike in eating disorders and substance abuse. 

eating disorders and substance abuse

Social media users are taking up to an average of two hours and thirty minutes every day to scroll through social networking and messaging platforms. The younger generation — such as 13- to 17-year-olds — spends an average of nine hours a day on the internet. 

The pressure to look “thin” is mounting. Social media has made sure the idea of looking thin is attainable, even if it’s done through unhealthy habits. The pressure to look thin can be very impressionable on the mind of a young middle schooler or freshman.

Because of social media, users have difficulty understanding the difference between healthy habits and dark habits. Ultimately, someone can look healthy or display a healthy-looking body weight, but still act in a way that’s damaging to their body.

Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

Since it can be hard to determine, listed below are some signs to look for in most types of eating disorders:

  • Extremely low body weight
  • Complaints about being fat or gaining weight
  • Refusal to eat certain foods that can be fattening
  • Obsessive calorie counting
  • Skipping meals or avoiding food
  • Denying a problem with food

The obsession with the ideal body image has contributed to a spike in eating disorders and habits. It’s estimated that 9% of the U.S. population will be affected by an eating disorder, that’s 28.8 million Americans. 

Eating disorders can develop from a number of influences, and women are most likely to suffer from them. Although men suffer from these types of illnesses as well, there are not as many occurrences. 

Those that suffer a type of eating disorder are at more risk of death than any other mental illness. Without getting the right treatment, up to 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders lose their life. With some form of treatment, the mortality rate falls between two and three percent.

Common Types of Eating Disorders

While there are more than just a few types of eating disorders, some of the most common ones include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Anorexia

People with anorexia nervosa eat far less food than is healthy. They suffer from unrealistic body images and always feel they are heavier than they weigh; this might lead to a binge or purge episode in which they eat or throw up immediately after. Some individuals with anorexia exercise for hours to burn unhealthy amounts of calories after they eat. Anorexia nervosa is the third most common chronic illness, after asthma and obesity.

Signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Diets frequently
  • No explanation for loss of weight
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor body image
  • Exercises a lot

Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa includes eating huge amounts of food and then purging uncontrollably afterward. Those with bulimia can maintain a healthy weight but feel ashamed of their bodies and binging episodes. Contrarily, 30% of those who suffer from bulimia are medically obese. Many with bulimia refuse to eat in public or around other people.

Signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Spends lots of time in the restroom after meals
  • Eats an excessive amount of food without gaining weight
  • Has frequent upset stomachs
  • Has unusual eating habits
  • Long or short periods of fasting
  • Exercises a lot
  • Low self-esteem

Binge-eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder includes repeatedly eating more food than other people or more food than necessary during short periods of time. These types of episodes can occur at least once a week over three months or in longer periods. 35% of those with binge-eating disorder are medically obese.

Signs and symptoms of binge-eating disorder include:

  • Eats large amounts of food in one sitting
  • Eats food when not hungry
  • Doesn’t eat in front of others
  • Hoards food
  • Zones out while eating
  • Frequently diets
  • Expressions of guilt and shame associated with their eating habits

Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

Eating disorders don’t choose who they affect but are damaging to people of all ages, racial backgrounds, genders, and body weights. 

Furthermore, professionals find that several influences play a part in the diagnosis of eating disorders and substance abuse. Some influences can include genetics, biology, behavioral influences, psychology, and social factors.

eating disorders and substance abuse

Substance abuse and eating disorders become more common during mid to late adolescence, but may also develop during childhood or later in life. The development of both substance abuse and an eating disorder in the same person is common around 16 years or older.

A staggering 47 percent of girls ages 10 to 17 report a desire to lose weight. This is most likely a result of popular magazines and social media depicting an ideal image of the female body. 

Additionally, studies have reported that 35 percent of people who diet will slide into unsafe eating habits. By self-starving or pathological dieting, these individuals are progressing towards the development of a severe eating disorder. This can contribute to the onslaught of substance abuse.

Developing Substance Abuse From An Eating Disorder

Many people with eating disorders also suffer from anxiety or depression; turning to drugs and alcohol can be a coping mechanism to reduce their physical or emotional pain. Studies show that up to 37 percent of people with an eating disorder also abuse drugs or alcohol. 

A shot of alcohol or a hit of marijuana might be the solution that’ll bring this individual a bit of relief. This relief can come in a time that is confusing or challenging.

The truth is, developing a substance abuse problem from an eating disorder is common. Part of the issue stems from eating disorders resembling forms of addiction. Those with many different types of eating disorders feel compelled to calculate how much and how often they eat. Some individuals cannot control their eating habits and consume too much; this can be compared to a drug or alcohol addiction issue as the abuser often cannot control their desires.

Some signs that can occur due to substance abuse development include:

  • Secretive or suspicious behavior
  • General lack of motivation
  • Inability to sleep, insomnia 
  • Drop in performance 
  • Always feels nauseous 
  • Need for privacy
  • Shaky hands, sweaty palms
  • Changes in normal routines, including
    • Change to personal care
    • Loss of interest in family and friends
    • Change to overall attitude, moody and irritable 
    • Change in hobbies and activities
    • Change in eating habits

Additionally, when there are unhealthy eating patterns already established, the risk of developing substance abuse is highly possible. 

The reason we develop these abuse factors is because of the stimulation center in our brain. These centers are activated by “feel-good” neurotransmitters that result from stimulation. Typically, these situations include neutral, pleasant activities, but can also include activities such as doing drugs, drinking alcohol, or eating.

The abuse of any substance can create a false sense of happiness or relief, but not without adverse effects. The stimulation cycle is created to block undesirable feelings and emotions, which means creating an addictive cycle is effortless.

Using drugs or alcohol can create a sense of relief, but it’s brief and only creates a greater risk for dependency and addiction-forming habits.

Ultimately, the stimulation center of the brain can determine whether addiction and dependency are created through an eating disorder and/or substance abuse.

Dual Diagnosis

Surprisingly, only 1 in 10 people who suffer from an eating disorder seek treatment. 

An eating disorder can be classified as a long-term ailment that requires long-term treatment; there is no immediate fix for anorexia nervosa or binge eating disorder. In some cases, a certain type of eating disorder can become so severe that it requires hospitalization. 

Furthermore, a person who suffers both a mental disorder and an alcohol or drug addiction has a dual diagnosis; when two conditions occur together. 

Treatment Options

Some common types of treatment for eating disorders and substance abuse include:

  • Co-occurring disorder treatment programs which deal with both addiction and eating disorders at the same time.
  • Residential treatment programs that allow the individual to live at the facility. During their stay, they’re removed from the distractions of everyday life and can focus their energy on healing.
  • Partial hospitalization programs that focus on developing skills needed for dealing with stressors, triggers, and life situations of an everyday individual. Through an outpatient program or sober living home, these programs prepare abusers to rejoin the community.
  • Sober housing options which allow an individual to make an easier transition into the community again. Sober houses offer a stable living environment with specific rules to support abstinence. 
  • Detox and tapering can allow substance abusers to take smaller doses of the drugs they’re addicted to. Over time, the dosage will decrease until they’re taking none. This process allows the body to grow accustomed to sobriety in slow, calculated steps. A rapid detoxification process usually ends with the user abusing the substance again. 
  • Medical detoxification is different as supervision is provided in a safe environment for guidance and encouragement. In this process, medication can be given to relieve symptoms of withdrawal. Medical detox may be easier than trying to accomplish sobriety on your own.
  • Psychological counseling and psychotherapy can offer the necessary tools for mental and emotional healing.
  • Antidepressants can help manage depression or anxiety that is associated with their eating disorder.

Get Help Today

It’s important to seek help. There’s that possibility of reaching the end goal of inner peace and self-respect. 

With all the treatment programs that are offered today, there is hope for recovery. If you or a loved one is experiencing a form of addiction — between an eating disorder and substance abuse — contact us today.