Eating Disorders

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When eating disorders and substance abuse take place together, they present an especially dangerous combination.

Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

The National Eating Disorders Association has some sobering statistics about the relationship between eating disorders and substance abuse. According to their research:

In some cases, the addiction begins before the eating disorder. In other cases, it starts while the eating disorder is occurring — and sometimes even after recovery from it. 

Eating disorders and substance abuse disorders share quite a few risk factors in common, including anxiety, depression, family history, low self-esteem, social pressures and brain chemistry (dopamine and serotonin). Both disorders have genetic underpinnings as well.

At Discovery Point Retreat, our trained clinicians have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating co-occurring eating disorders and substance use disorders. And we can help you, too.

What Substances Are Abused by People With Eating Disorders?

While there’s a wide variety of substance types that are prone to abuse by people suffering from disordered eating, certain ones tend to be abused more frequently, including:

One of the most common situations we see is something known as “drunkorexia.” This slang term refers to restricting calories from food in order to either offset the calories from alcohol, or to heighten its  effects. This pattern of behavior is prevalent on college campuses, especially among young women. By limiting food and consuming large quantities of alcohol, people can find themselves at risk for serious medical complications — including alcohol poisoning.

Because people with co-occurring eating disorders and substance abuse disorders may be suffering from malnutrition, it’s especially important to go through medical detox under the care of doctors. Not only can they make the withdrawal process much more comfortable and manageable, they can also provide the nutritional support to help you detox safely.

How Does Discovery Point Retreat Address Co-Occurring Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse?

Because this combination of disorders is so common, we have a great deal of experience treating them. For the most effective treatment, people with co-occurring disorders should seek dual diagnosis treatment like the programs offered by Discovery Point Retreat. If addiction is the primary condition, we can address that first beginning with detox under medical supervision to get through withdrawal and stabilize physically in preparation for next steps in recovery. We also partner with Eating Disorder Solutions to provide residential or outpatient eating disorder treatment as appropriate. Our many therapy offerings, both in individual and group settings, will address your substance abuse and eating disorder while giving you the tools to recover — for a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Common types of eating disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia view themselves as overweight, even if they are underweight to the point of being unhealthy. They constantly check their weight and monitor their diet to restrict calories and keep their weight down.

Anorexia affects more women than men, and it often begins during the teenage or young adult years. Signs of anorexia include:

Anorexics also think constantly about food, sometimes even hoarding it, and they may show other signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to food and their eating habits. They also may be uncomfortable eating in public places.

There are two basic types of anorexics – those who restrict their food intake, and those who binge eat and then purge. People who are restrictive try to control their weight simply by dieting, fasting or exercising excessively. Others binge eat then make themselves throw up or take laxatives or diuretics to remove the food from their body.

In either case, anorexia can take an intense physical toll, causing weakened bones, brittle hair and nails, infertility and other dangerous effects. And in severe cases, anorexia can cause failure of the heart, brain or other vital organs.

Binge Eating

People with this disorder regularly eat large amounts of food in a short period of time. It’s more than over-indulging – it is a serious condition characterized by repeated, uncontrollable overeating. It is one of the most common eating disorders and affects people of all ages, although it most often occurs among teenagers and young adults.

The symptoms are similar to those of bulimia and the binge-eating variety of anorexia. People who binge eat can’t control their eating behavior, and they don’t try to compensate for their binges by purging or exercising.

Signs of a binge eating disorder include:

People with binge eating disorder are often overweight or obese, which can increase the risk of medical problems related to excess weight, such as stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. High cholesterol, sleep apnea and joint pain are also negative effects of binge eating.

Bulimia Nervosa

Symptoms of bulimia may appear to be very similar to those of the binge eating or the purging variety of anorexia. People with bulimia, however, usually maintain a relatively normal weight rather than becoming noticeably underweight or overweight.

Like anorexia, bulimia often occurs during the teenage and young adult years, and it is more common among women than men. People with bulimia binge eat a large amount of food quickly, until they become full to the point of physical discomfort. While eating, they feel they have no control over their behavior and cannot stop. Studies have shown that people with bulimia most often binge on foods they would normally not eat.

After binging, bulimics purge to relieve the pain they feel from overeating. Much like anorexics who purge, behaviors include vomiting, fasting, laxatives, enemas, diuretics and excessive exercise.

Signs of bulimia nervosa include:

People who suffer from bulimia may also show other physical symptoms such as a sore throat, swollen salivary glands, tooth decay, acid reflux, intestinal discomfort and severe dehydration. At its worst, bulimia can cause an imbalance in levels of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium and calcium, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Other Types of Eating Disorders

We’re here to help you recover from both eating disorders and substance abuse. Talk with the treatment specialists at Discovery Point Retreat today.


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