Approximately 50% of those suffering from an eating disorder are also abusing drugs or alcohol, which is a rate five times higher than the general population, The relationship between eating disorders and substance addictions is a complicated one and very often these two issues need to be addressed concurrently. Sometimes the eating disorder is caused by the addiction, or vice versa, but in every case the two end up fueling one another, making each problem worse.
Facilitating and Covering Up an Eating Disorder
Many people who are dealing with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia end up turning to substance abuse as a way of facilitating or hiding their disorder. Illegal stimulants like meth or crack can be used to provide the energy to get through a day without food. Over-the-counter substances like laxatives or diet pills are used to drop weight and keep it off. Alcohol may be abused to the point of inducing vomiting, in order to avoid the calories it packs on. Abusing these substances quickly establishes a dependency on them in order to support the eating disorder, which eventually leads to deep seated substance addiction as well.
Feeding an Addiction
Just as substance abuse can be used to support an eating disorder, an eating disorder can develop as a result of supporting an addiction as well. Many addictive substances suppress the appetite, making food seem unappealing. Alcoholics my control their weight by counteracting the empty calories consumed through drinking by skipping meals. Many addicts check into treatment severely malnourished, because obtaining and using drugs and alcohol simply hasn’t left time or desire for proper nutrition. Ignoring the body’s physical needs for so long can often lead to an eating disorder and these habits may be difficult to overcome, even when a person stops using drugs.
Because eating disorders and other forms of addiction feed into each other in such an intricate, complicated way, it’s important that treatment for both issues be administered at the same time. Failure to receive help on both fronts will lead to relapse later on. Other co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety often come along with addiction and eating disorders, which can further exacerbate the problem. Receiving treatment in a rehab program that is designed to bring help and health to the whole person will set up a model for success and provide relief from multiple issues through one course of treatment.