Addiction can interfere with every aspect of your life. Eating disorders are incredibly dangerous; they are the most deadly mental disorders for women. What if you have both? Why are eating disorders so common with addiction?
What Constitutes an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are about far more than just food. They are very serious medical and mental health disorders characterized by severe disruptions to eating habits. Some people falsely assume that the behaviors associated with eating disorders are a choice; they are not. The behaviors involve unrealistic fixations or obsessions with weight loss, body image, or controlling their food intake that become uncontrollable because they are symptoms of a serious mental health disorder. Eating disorders can also be life-threatening and can damage someone for life.
Women are far more likely than men to have an eating disorder, with the causes typically stemming from genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and mainly social factors. A woman sometimes loses the capacity to see their own beauty. Some of the most common eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bulimia nervosa
- Binge-eating disorder
- Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
Eating disorders are not to be confused with disordered eating, which involves some of the same symptoms and compulsions toward eating habits. However, they are not as frequent or life-threatening or based on an actual mental health disorder. Some of the most common symptoms of disordered eating include:
- Frequent dieting or weight fluctuations
- Preoccupation with food, weight, or body image
- Skipping meals frequently
- Inflexible routines surrounding exercise or eating
- Compulsive eating habits, feeling like they have no control
- Restrictive eating habits
- Compulsive exercise to compensate for poor diet choices
- Purging due to shame about eating habits
What Are Common Substance Use Disorders for Women?
One common substance that women become addicted to is cocaine. Known as the “skinny drug,” some women use cocaine because it can suppress appetite, not realizing the very serious side effects of that appetite suppression. The most obvious side effects are that cocaine is incredibly addictive and that there are incredibly harmful physical side effects. Lesser known side effects include changing the metabolism so that the body gains more fat when the drug is no longer used.
Other common substances that women use include alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens, methamphetamines, and opioids. There are also women who abuse multiple substances, known as polysubstance use.
The Symbiotic Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Addiction
Some women use substances because they have an eating disorder, while other women develop an eating disorder because they have a substance use disorder. Women with eating disorders often have a substance use disorder as well. For example, a 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine found that 30-70% of adults with bulimia nervosa also have a substance use disorder or co-occurring disorder.
Some of the reasons for this overlap in conditions include common neurobiological mechanisms and genetic factors between the disorders and common socio-demographics for both sets of disorders. Childhood trauma is a significant factor for women in developing both disorders. Personality features such as impulsivity, emotional dysregulation, and novelty-seeking traits are often present in both types of disorders.
Can Women Heal From Eating Disorders?
While the road back can be challenging, women can heal from eating disorders. Treatment can include therapy, nutrition education, medical monitoring, and sometimes medication. Your treatment would include support from a licensed therapist or psychologist with experience treating eating disorders, as well as a nutritionist or dietician who can educate you regarding how you need to change your eating habits to restore your physical and mental health. You would also need to be monitored by your doctor and possibly a psychiatrist if you need medication.
Why It Is Important to Treat Both Disorders Simultaneously
When you have a co-occurring eating disorder and a substance use disorder, treating them simultaneously is important to the success of treatment for each one. Treating one disorder but not the other can worsen the symptoms of the other one and increase the likelihood of relapse. There can also be serious health consequences when there is an eating disorder involved; it is very important to treat it carefully and thoroughly.
Treating both disorders at the same time is also wise. Given their commonalities, such as childhood trauma, personality traits, and shared neurobiological mechanisms, much of the treatment and therapy could also overlap and benefit both disorders together. The healing process can be initiated collectively, and while it may be more challenging with the symptoms of both of the co-occurring disorders, it can also be complete and rewarding.
Why are eating disorders so common with addiction? Both types of disorders stem from the same biological and environmental factors and demographics. Both are medical conditions that create dangerous and even life-threatening symptoms. Both addiction and eating disorders can receive proper treatment and attention. The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women treats both addiction and co-occurring eating disorders in our Costa Mesa, California facility. Our trauma-informed program features education and evidence-based treatments to help you find your way again. We know how many women struggle with co-occurring disorders, and our compassionate, non-judgmental staff is here to help. Our program is women-only, so you can feel safe and comfortable as you begin to heal. We have created a calm, peaceful refuge for you to rediscover who you are. Have you been diagnosed, or do you think you have an eating disorder? Call us today at (714) 581-3974.