The Link Between Substance Abuse And Eating Disorders
Guest Post – By Chloe P.
Substance abuse disorders can affect many age groups, but when they are combined with another disorder they can be deadly. Studies have found links between drug and alcohol abuse and eating disorders, depression, and PTSD, all of which are exacerbated by the interaction. In fact, research suggests that up to 50% of those living with an eating disorder also abuse drugs or alcohol, substances which increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and depression, not to mention negative physical effects such as stroke, heart attack, cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, or hepatitis.
Eating disorders–the most common of which are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating–eventually have negative impacts on physical health as well. The esophagus, teeth, and digestive tract are all affected by these disorders and can leave the sufferer so weak and ill that they cannot function normally.
Eating disorders commonly begin during the teen years, when many sufferers begin to have body image issues. They can affect males or females, and researchers believe there are many complex factors at work behind them: biological, genetic, and psychological, to name a few.
Each type of disorder affects the individual differently, and they will find different ways to cope with their daily activities; for some, food intake is highly restricted and a strict, excessive exercise regimen is implemented. For others, binging and purging makes them feel in control. Drugs and alcohol are often used to help the individual curb their appetite, or to help them purge. The addiction to both the substance and the eating disorder affects the brain in a very particular way, making the individual feel as though they have achieved what they want and stimulating happiness.
It is difficult for many people to talk about these disorders; in several cases, it is swept under the rug because it is an uncomfortable subject. However, it’s extremely important to know the warning signs of a person who is suffering from an eating or substance abuse disorder and to know how to start a conversation about it in order to get the individual help. These warning signs include:
- Extremely restricted diet
- Excessive exercise
- Weight loss to an extreme level
- Anxiety over gaining weight
- A distorted body image
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Leaving the table, sometimes more than once, during a meal
- Changes in skin’s appearance
In severe cases–or cases in which the eating disorder has gone on for a long time untreated–the individual may experience low blood pressure, heart, kidney, and brain damage, or even death. If someone you love is exhibiting any of these behaviors, make an effort to talk to them about your concerns. Don’t be afraid to bring up the term “eating disorder”; sometimes, hearing the words spoken aloud is jarring enough to make the individual face what they are doing, and once their secret is out on the table they might realize it’s okay to talk about it. Offer to help them find a counselor or healthcare professional who can help them find a healthy way to cope.
There are many different therapies available for those suffering from an eating disorder, but if substance abuse is also involved, it will need to be addressed separately. Let your loved one know they are not alone, and that there are ways for them to get healthy.
*Thank you, Chloe P., for this week’s guest post.
Remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE.