5 million Americans have some form of eating disorder. And 50% of those people also struggle with substance abuse.

To those who understand the true nature of eating disorders, the high correlation of substance abuse and eating disorders is unsurprising. After all, at their core, eating disorders are an addiction.

Both conditions trigger risk-taking behavior that persists despite that patient’s knowledge of its harm. Both conditions have a cycle of remorse and relapse. Both conditions cause obsessive behaviors and thoughts. Both create the cycle of pleasure and abuse in the brain, where “use” triggers the pleasure center, and a patient is gradually immunized to the stimulus, so that more and more of the substance (or behavior) is needed in order to get a high. This is especially evident in binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.

Eating Disorders Defined

Eating disorders include binge-eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa. Eating disorders are another condition included under the umbrella of “anxiety disorders” however, in the case of an eating disorder, patients seek to treat themselves through the abuse of food.

Eating disorders are characterized by an unhealthy obsession with food, appearance, and body image. Eating disorders are also seen in tandem with disorders like OCD, and schizophrenia. In fact, sometimes eating disorders are a symptoms of some other disorder.

How Are Eating Disorders and Addictions Linked?

In some cases, eating disorders lead to substance abuse, because certain substances aid in eating addiction behaviors. For example, someone with bulimia nervosa may use substances that make it easier to purge. A patient with anorexia might seek out substances that curb appetite. Eventually, the substance’s addictive characteristics take hold and the patient becomes hooked.

Sometimes the drug dependence occurs first, and it can lead to suppression of appetite and change in patterns that leads to dramatic change in weight and eating patterns, which can trigger an eating disorder.

Common Causes

Another reason for the common co occurrence of these conditions is that they both share common causes and triggers.

For example, both are closely linked to family and social pressure. Both can be triggered by traumatic events and sexual abuse. Both behaviors are commonly seen in those with certain characteristics, such as sensation-seeking, high risk tolerance, impulsiveness, and high stress. Both behaviors are often triggered by times of transition and extreme stress. And both conditions are often relied on in an attempt to numb feelings caused by something else completely.

The Journey to Recovery

Although there are many facilities that are built to treat eating disorders, and many built to treat addiction, few are equipped to deal with both challenges at the same time. However, both conditions must be treated in order for a patient to achieve true health and sobriety.

Realizing the harmful effects of both conditions is essential for a patient’s recovery. Patients will need to build up their self-esteem and self-reliance through patterns of success, and learning healthy ways to cope with stress.