Eating disorders often co-occur with substance abuse and require treatment at the same time as the substance abuse. Obsessive preoccupation with eating–restricting, bingeing or both–and severe disturbances in eating habits that negatively impact your lifestyle and health or that of a loved one indicate a probable eating disorder that needs to be addressed.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are three main types of eating disorders that co-occur with substance abuse, and each has different symptoms and is treated in a different way.
Anorexia is characterized by extreme restricting of food intake. Anorexics typically eat far fewer calories than their bodies need, and may only eat certain foods, excluding all others. People with anorexia will see themselves as overweight even if they are severely underweight. Some anorexics will also use laxatives or diuretics or binge and purge along with the extreme restricting of their food intake. Of all types of eating disorders, anorexia has the most potential to be fatal as sufferers may restrict food intake so much that they effectively starve to death.
Bulimia nervosa is a disorder in which sufferers eat large amounts of food, then make efforts to purge it from their systems by using different methods. Bulimics may vomit soon after eating, use laxatives or diuretics, exercise excessively, or fast in order to compensate for their binges. Many bulimics are of normal weight but can develop severe digestive problems, a chronically sore throat, tooth erosion from repeated exposure to stomach acid from vomiting, dehydration, and in some cases, an electrolyte imbalance that can cause a heart attack or a stroke.
Binge eating disorder occurs when someone loses control over eating and eats unusually large amounts of food in short periods of time. Unlike other eating disorders, binge eaters do not restrict or purge, though they may attempt to diet, usually without success. Binge eaters may eat very fast during a binge, eat even when they are not hungry and until they are uncomfortably full, and eat alone or in secret due to embarrassment. They often feel guilty or distressed about their eating.
Treatment for Eating Disorders
Eating disorder treatment involves individual and group therapy designed to explore the reasons behind the disorder. Education and nutritional treatments aim to reduce or eliminate the disordered aspects of eating and develop new and healthier habits. In some instances, medications may be helpful in reducing urges and improving disordered behaviors.
Eating disorders often develop over time, and just like overcoming substance abuse, it takes time to form new eating habits and relearn healthy ways of living. While you can abstain from using drugs or alcohol, however, you cannot abstain from food in the same way.
Recovery Village at Palmer Lake offers dual diagnosis treatment that includes treatment for eating disorders along with other mental health conditions. Learn about admissions to see what we have to offer when you or any of your loved ones struggle with an eating disorder and substance abuse at the same time.