Eating Disorders and Addiction, Which Comes First?

Eating Disorders And Addiction 

The eating disorder sufferer, whether female or male will often have a complex array of symptoms. Sometimes they will fit neatly into the Anorexic or Bulimic spectrum, and other times may exhibit symptoms of both, or have other complicated patterns of beliefs about food and their weight. Recent studies over the last decade, on both small and large scale show that as many as fifty percent of all eating disorder sufferers may be likely to have some form of problem with substance abuse or drug addiction too.

The link between eating disorder and substance abuse

When someone is suffering from an eating disorder their symptoms will be such that no matter how hard they try, what they see in the mirror is never good enough, they may view themselves as holding too much weight and whatever the scales say, they will be lying. In a person who is addicted to drugs or other substances, they may feel that they have no control over the stress in their lives or that they simply cannot cope with every day challenges. By taking whatever their substance of choice is, they perceive, albeit wrongly, that it gives them a sense of calm and ease and so they feel more able to cope. The coping mechanism of someone with anorexia, bulimia or EDNOS is similar by nature, the sufferer using either restriction of food or binge eating as a way to cope with their mental troubles. Thus in some cases, the sufferer may turn to substances as a way of trying to deal with their frustrations. It is believed that the condition is more likely to affect people who suffer with bulimia rather than anorexia, though not totally exclusively.

Which comes first?

It’s also important to examine the way in which either condition develops. In some sufferers the eating disorder will present itself first, with the onset of substance abuse following. In such cases, the sufferer may begin to experiment with drugs as a way of firstly suppressing the appetite, secondly as a way of keeping themselves going for long periods of time without eating and thirdly as a way of keeping anxiety and any psychological distress to a minimum. In other cases, the reverse might happen – the sufferer of a drug addiction finding that when they start to withdraw from substances that their appetite and hunger signals become confused which can then lead on to problems with food and either restrictive eating or binging developing.

Eating disorders as an addiction

It’s true to say that in many cases an eating disorder is an addiction in itself. In cases of anorexia and bulimia the sufferer will become addicted to trying to control their weight and try to control what they consume on a daily basis. Sufferers will be affected entirely by genetics, what they see in their immediate environment, how friends and family behave around food and perhaps any traumas or difficulties they have experienced in their lives. All this will create grounding for the development of eating problems and the potential for an issue with drugs or other substances to develop. However, in situations like these it is important to remember that they can be overcome.

Repairing and recovering

It is completely possible to make a recovery from both eating disorders and substance abuse. Finding drug addiction help in Maryland or any other state across the country is something that is incredibly important, alongside treatment for issues with food. Anyone who suffers from both addiction and an eating disorder is fighting two different challenges of dependence, first with food and secondly with the substances. Therapy and inpatient care can go a long way in helping the sufferer understand why they are engaging in certain behaviors and aid them in coming to terms with withdrawal and recovery from both conditions. The first and most important step is for the sufferer to admit they have problems. Once they have been honest and opened up, then the path to wellness can begin in earnest. Sufferers more often than not will find that occasional relapses occur, but it is important to understand that this is entirely normal and all part of the recovery process as a whole. There is nothing to feel afraid or ashamed of in opening up and talking about such issues, being honest and open is a sign of strength and one of wanting to fight and regain health and sufferers must always try and keep this uppermost in their thoughts whilst in recovery.


Written by Lisa Grant

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