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How is Addiction Related to Eating Disorders?

There is a large overlap between addiction and eating disorders. About half of people with eating disorders abuse drugs or alcohol and about a third of people who abuse drugs and alcohol have eating disorders. The reasons for this overlap are still subject to speculation and it has only been recently experts in the fields of addiction and eating disorders have begun to take seriously the idea that there are similar processes involved in both.

There are several possible ways to relate addiction and eating disorders. Both are often preceded by depression or anxiety, so one way of relating them is that they are responses to those conditions and possibly ways of self-medicating. The relationship between mental health issues and addiction is complex and shouldn’t simply be reduced to self-medication and the same is true for the relationship between mental health issues and eating disorders. Drugs, alcohol, and eating may all be ways to temporarily distract from persistent negative thoughts or anxiety.

How a disorder like anorexia could fit into this model is less clear. Food, especially sweet or fatty food, triggers a dopamine response similar to drugs or alcohol, but it’s harder to understand how not eating could cause a similar reaction. In this case it could be that negative beliefs about oneself–particularly of being fat and therefore unattractive–might lead to both anorexia and depression. Starvation produces chemical changes in the brain that might be addictive in a certain frame of mind. Preoccupation with weight might also lead to using stimulants as a means of weight loss. Using diet pills early on might lead to addiction, especially if the use of stimulants is tied to a persistent preoccupation with body image.

There are any number of ways addiction, eating disorders, and mental health issues can be related to one another. Addiction and eating disorders seem to share a number of features–inability to stop, despite negative effects; prioritizing the addiction over health, work, and family; indulging secretly; obsessing over the activity; escalating behavior, and, of course, denying there is a problem at all. There may be a genetic component as well.

When seeking help for an addiction and an eating disorder, it’s important to find a center that can treat both. Otherwise, one is likely to get worse as the other gets better. This can lead to a destructive cycle. Treating an eating disorder is trickier in some ways that treating alcohol or drug addiction, because you have to eat, whereas you can avoid drugs and alcohol completely. This requires a different and perhaps more intensive therapeutic approach as well as monitoring during mealtimes. Be sure any treatment center you choose is equipped to deal with both issues.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and an eating disorder, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at info@tgwcdetox.com to learn more.