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The Link Between Eating Disorders and Addiction

Written on October 9, 2023
The Link Between Eating Disorders and Addiction

There is a complex relationship between eating disorders and addiction. Both disorders reflect manifestations of underlying psychological, environmental, and biological factors. When attempting to heal comprehensively, it is crucial to understand the interplay between these two disorders. Additionally, in order for recovery from one disorder to be maintained, both must be treated concurrently. 

At Flatirons Recovery, we help our clients tackle substance use disorders and all co-occurring issues. Addressing all mental health concerns ensures the best possible chance of long-term recovery. If you or someone you love has been struggling with an eating disorder and addiction, we can help. Contact us today to learn more about our dual-diagnosis treatment center in Boulder, Colorado. 

Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are severe and often fatal illnesses. Not only do eating disorders impact how individuals perceive and interact with food, but they are also associated with severe disturbances in thoughts and emotions. Common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a distorted body image and an unwarranted fear of being overweight. This leads individuals to refuse to maintain a minimally average body weight. Those with AN often see themselves as overweight, even if they are dangerously underweight. 

They tend to be very restrictive in the amount and types of food they consume and may engage in excessive exercise or other behaviors to prevent weight gain. The condition can lead to numerous health issues, including heart conditions, bone loss, and infertility.

Bulimia Nervosa (BN)

Bulimia nervosa involves episodes of eating large amounts of food — known as bingeing — followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as forced vomiting, excessive exercise, or the use of laxatives. These episodes and behaviors can happen multiple times a week or even several times a day. 

People with bulimia often feel a lack of control during their binge episodes. Additionally, episodes are followed by intense guilt or shame. This disorder can lead to gastrointestinal problems, dehydration, and imbalances in electrolytes, which can result in heart complications.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia in that it involves episodes of excessive eating. However, unlike bulimia, individuals with BED do not regularly engage in purging, excessive exercise, or other behaviors to compensate for their binges. People with this disorder often eat large amounts of food even when they’re not hungry and may do so in private because of feelings of shame or guilt. 

Understanding Addiction 

Addiction is the compulsive need to engage in a behavior or consume a substance despite adverse consequences. However, addiction is not limited to drugs or alcohol. Certain behaviors and activities can be addictive, including behaviors surrounding food and eating. 

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as “a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in compulsive behaviors and often continue despite harmful consequences.” 

Both eating disorders and addiction have common risk factors. Because of this, the two disorders frequently co-occur. At Flatirons Recovery, we offer dual-diagnosis treatment in Boulder, Colorado. Our compassionate team of substance use and mental health specialists treat the root causes of eating disorders and addiction. Contact us directly to learn more. 

Risk Factors of Addiction and Eating Disorders

Common risk factors for addiction and eating disorders include:

  • Brain Chemistry: Both eating disorders and addiction can change the brain’s reward systems. Over time, these changes can make individuals more susceptible to developing the other condition.
  • Shared Triggers: Stress, trauma, or genetics might predispose someone to eating disorders and addiction.
  • Seeking Control: Many struggling with eating disorders or addiction are trying to exert control over something in their life.
  • Co-Occurrence: Studies have shown a significant overlap. Those with eating disorders might be more prone to substance abuse and vice versa.
  • Genetics: Evidence suggests that some are genetically predisposed to eating disorders and addiction.
  • Emotional Pain: To cope with emotional distress, some might turn to drugs, alcohol, or problematic eating behaviors.
  • Societal Pressures: The societal fixation on ‘ideal’ body images can be a significant stressor.

Psychological Overlap

On the surface, eating disorders might appear to revolve exclusively around food and body image. Alternatively, addiction seems tied solely to substance abuse. But dig deeper, and striking similarities emerge in the psychological underpinnings.

Both conditions often stem from a need to cope. Individuals might turn to drugs, alcohol, or problematic eating behaviors as ways to deal with emotional pain, trauma, anxiety, or depression. The temporary relief or numbness provided becomes a maladaptive coping strategy that spirals into a full-fledged disorder.

The Role of Shame in Eating Disorders and Addiction

Moreover, the cycle of shame and secrecy that shrouds eating disorders and addiction can perpetuate and exacerbate the condition. The guilt of bingeing might lead to purging in someone with bulimia. Similarly, the regret a person feels after a substance-fueled episode can drive them to use again in an attempt to escape the negative emotions. 

At Flatirons Recovery, we understand how painful struggling with a dual-diagnosis disorder can be. We have developed a practical clinical care program that considers every aspect of well-being, from mental and emotional health to physical wellness. Contact us today to begin a healing journey at our Boulder rehab

Treating Eating Disorders and Addiction 

Treating eating disorders and addiction is a complex and personalized process. Recognizing and treating both conditions is crucial, as neglecting one can exacerbate the other. For instance, an individual using drugs to suppress appetite might find their eating disorder symptoms intensifying, while another using food to cope with withdrawal might see their bingeing escalate. 

At Flatirons Recovery, our experienced and compassionate team knows the red flags to look for. We ensure our clients receive the life-saving help they need to overcome all challenges and move toward the happy and fulfilling lives they deserve. 

Comprehensive and Compassionate Care

At Flatirons Recovery, our mission revolves around understanding each individual’s unique experience, ensuring that treatment addresses all facets of their health. We provide comprehensive care, treating all existing issues. 

Treatment begins with a thorough assessment to determine the presence of co-occurring disorders. From there, a multi-pronged approach incorporates evidence-based therapies, counseling, and nutritional guidance.

A cornerstone of Flatirons Recovery’s approach lies in building coping skills that extend beyond substance use or maladaptive eating behaviors. By teaching individuals healthier ways to navigate stress, emotional pain, and societal pressures, the facility empowers them to build resilient futures free from the chains of eating disorders and addiction.

Our Dual-Diagnosis Rehab in Boulder

We offer several levels of clinical care to individuals struggling with eating disorders and addiction. 

  • The Recovery Ranch Program — Our inpatient rehab in Boulder, Colorado, provides clients with 24/7 care in a comfortable, supportive environment. Clients participate in several hours of intensive therapeutic and holistic programming and various recovery-friendly activities. 
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) — Our PHP program provides structure and accountability but allows clients more personal independence and flexibility than they would have in traditional residential treatment. 
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment — We offer daytime and nighttime Intensive Outpatient (IOP) programming. Our IOP program includes individual and group therapy, relapse prevention training, vocational training, and other pertinent services. 
  • Sober Living — Sober living facilities can be an excellent accompaniment to holistic rehab during and after treatment. For many, sober living is a crucial component of aftercare. Our Boulder, Colorado, sober living home is comfortable and structured, providing residents with the accountability they need to thrive in their newfound lives of recovery. 

Begin Your Recovery Journey in Boulder, Colorado Today

The link between eating disorders and addiction offers crucial insights into the intricate nature of mental health disorders. By acknowledging and understanding these parallels, treatment centers like Flatirons Recovery can provide more effective, compassionate care to those in need. If you or a loved one struggles with these intertwined challenges, remember that comprehensive support exists, ready to guide you toward a brighter, healthier tomorrow. Contact us today to begin healing at our Boulder, Colorado rehab center.