The Relationship between Eating Disorders and Addiction

Most people think that individuals who have eating disorders and those who have substance addictions are suffering from two very distinct conditions. Individuals with eating disorders typically have body image concerns while those with substance addictions are struggling with sensations. One uses substances that are considered illegal while the other consumes substances that are considered perfectly normal and even beneficial. But the truth is that eating disorders and substance addictions share common roots. Understanding the unique relationship of these two conditions can help provide the means to effectively manage both.

Experts say that about half of all individuals who have eating disorders end up abusing illicit substances such as drugs or alcohol. Likewise, more than a third of all substance abusers are known to have some form of eating disorder like bulimia nervosa and the like.

There is one feature that characterizes both eating disorders and addictions and this is compulsion, often without regard for the consequences of such behavior or act.

Most individuals with eating disorder like bulimia nervosa are unable to control the urge to eat. Once the compulsion to eat subsides, they feel immense guilt and remorse that they do everything they can to eliminate the same food that they have eaten. That is why they go on a feeding frenzy only to forcefully expel all of these out. In essence there is substantial reduction in one’s control over their eating behaviors.

The same reduction in impulse control can also be seen in individuals with substance addictions. At first they may be tempted to use illicit drugs out of curiosity, even though their minds are telling them that the consequences are far greater than the temporary benefits that they might obtain with single use. Over time, this loss of control becomes more and more pronounced such that the individual is now fully unable to stop the urge to take drugs or any other illicit substance.

Eating disorders can be considered as forms of addiction, too since there is a general sense of having to sacrifice other personal interests just to be able to spend more time eating. They are also unable to stop the behavior even though they have tried countless times.

Studies show that both eating disorders and addictions may have the same root causes, too. Family dynamics, emotional trauma, media messages, social pressures, environmental triggers, and impulsivity have all been implicated in the development of both conditions. If any, both of these conditions are known to develop more frequently during periods of high stress and emotional tension further fueling the belief that both eating disorders and addictions are the direct result of one’s faulty coping mechanisms.

While both conditions also have exceptionally high relapse rates with considerable resistance to treatment, both will require long-term intensive therapy. However, treating substance addiction is generally easier as one only needs to remove the offending substance. Eating disorders, on the other hand, require an entirely different approach since you cannot really remove food out of the equation.

The relationship between eating disorders and addiction is grounded in the individual’s loss of control. This is why in most cases, these two often coexist.

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