Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse: Dual Diagnosis Treatment at NorthPoint Recovery

Did you know that about 24 million people in the United States are currently struggling with some type of eating disorder? For many of these individuals, their eating disorders go hand in hand with addictions to either drugs or alcohol. Their situations seem hopeless because for them, it’s possible that it feels as though there aren’t that many facilities that are willing to treat them for their eating disorders and their addictions at the same time.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders means that the psychiatric disorder and the addiction are treated at the same time, and this certainly pertains to eating disorders.

The fact is that eating disorders and simultaneous drug and alcohol addictions are often linked together. It’s important to understand more about what an eating disorder is, and how it affects someone who has it before you can truly understand where the addiction comes into play. However, it’s also important to note that there are treatment facilities that offer dual diagnosis treatment that can address the unique needs that this type of patient might have. Treatment for co-occurring disorders means that the psychiatric disorder and the addiction are treated at the same time, and this certainly pertains to eating disorders.

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What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders can be blamed on all kinds of things. Some people blame them on the trends in popular culture, which sometimes put out false expectations about what the ideal body type of should be. There is a belief that if someone looks thin, or if they are a certain size, they’ll have better success in both their personal and professional lives. Dieting has become the norm; even among those who obviously don’t need to do it. In fact, as many as 35% of those who would be considered normal dieters will turn to patterns of obsessive dieting or will end up attempting to starve themselves.

An eating disorder can be described as any illness that is identified by a relationship with food that is unhealthy.

In some people this is characterized by a need to what types of food they eat. Others will restrict how often they eat. There are also those who find it difficult to control the amounts of food they eat during the course of a day.

Regardless of how the eating disorder is presenting, anyone who continues on in these patterns of behavior risks serious medical and health consequences. Eating disorders are very dangerous, and those who suffer from them have a much higher mortality rate than other mental illnesses. Any type of eating disorder can happen to anyone. Men can be just as susceptible as women to succumbing to eating disorders, even though they are often seen as women’s diseases. As a result, many men go undiagnosed, and they continue to suffer with them during their entire lives.

What are Some Types of Eating Disorders?

It’s important to note that most eating disorders start to surface during the teen or young adult years. These years are the ones when people are the most impressionable. Their desires to fit in are great, and they’re liable to go to great lengths to be sure that happens.

Not all eating disorders are the same. In fact, there are several different types. These include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa – This is characterized by eating much less food than the body requires in order to be healthy. When someone has anorexia nervosa, they typically have a body image that is not realistic. For example, they see something different when they look in the mirror than everyone else sees, and no matter how much weight they lose, they still feel overweight. It is important to note that anorexia nervosa can be present in someone who appears to be of normal weight.
  • Binge Eating Disorder – Binge eating disorder occurs when someone continually eats a lot of food in one sitting. These periods of time are generally brief in their duration, and the amount of food that is consumed is more than what would be considered normal. The binge eating sessions generally occur at least one time a week, and they last for at least three months.
  • Bulimia Nervosa – Bulimia nervosa occurs when someone participates in binge eating, and then they immediately purge afterwards. These individuals usually have healthy weights, but their perception of their bodies is off. Bulimia nervosa brings a great deal of shame, and quite often those who suffer from this eating disorder will not agree to eating in social situations or in public at all.
  • Purging Disorder – In some ways, purging disorder is a lot like bulimia nervosa, but it’s also very different. People with purging disorder don’t eat a lot of food in one sitting. They will usually eat regularly sized meals, or even meals that are much smaller than what someone else might eat. After eating, they purge, and they avoid situations when purging won’t be possible.
  • Night Eating Syndrome – People with night eating syndrome are usually binge eaters. They feel like they don’t have any control over their eating patterns, and end up feeling guilty over their behaviors. This syndrome affects about 1.5% of the people in the United States

How Do Eating Disorders Affect the Body?

Eating disorders affect the body in a number of different ways. Most importantly, they deprive the body of the vitamins and minerals it needs. Whether this occurs because of purging or because of not eating enough, when the body doesn’t get the nutrients that it requires, the results become apparent in many different outward symptoms. These might include:

  • Having brittle hair and nails
  • Having weak and brittle bones
  • Having yellow and dry skin
  • A much slower pulse rate
  • The loss of muscle in the body
  • The onset of anxiety and panic attacks
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Loss of teeth or tooth enamel
  • Pain in the stomach 

When some eating disorders are allowed to continue, they can result in the failure of many organs in the body, brain damage, heart problems, calcium and sodium deficiencies, gastrointestinal issues, acid reflux, and a number of other problems. 

As you can see the effects of eating disorders are profound, and it really isn’t surprising that many people turn to addictions as a way to self-medicate when they have eating disorders.

What are Some Signs of an Eating Disorder?

Perhaps you believe that you might have an eating disorder because one of the ones listed here sounds familiar to you. Still, you might be unsure, and you might not really know the signs you should look for to determine whether or not your relationship with food has become a full eating disorder. You can start by looking for any of the following:

  • Do you refuse to eat certain foods?
  • Do you find yourself obsessing over counting calories?
  • Do you have an intense fear of gaining weight?
  • Right now, are you of an extremely low body weight?
  • Do you frequently skip meals or turn down food when you would need to eat with others?
  • Do you complain of being fat regularly?
  • Have you ever misused laxatives or diuretics?
  • Do you deny that you have a problem with food? 

If any of these sound familiar to you, they are warnings that you probably do have an eating disorder that requires treatment. However, if you also have an addiction to either drugs or alcohol, the treatment you require is actually a bit different.

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Why are Eating Disorders and Addiction Linked?

If you have an eating disorder, you’re much more likely than others to also have an addiction. In fact, close to 50% of those who meet the DSM V criteria for eating disorders also meet the criteria for substance abuse disorders. It’s very dangerous to have an eating disorder without the complication of adding in an addiction, but once an addiction is present, the situation is even more serious.

Eating disorders and addictions are often linked to one another because when you suffer from an eating disorder, it’s almost second nature to look for a way to cope with that condition on your own. Drugs or alcohol offer you a way to self-medicate, and in the short term, you actually believe you’re helping yourself feel better about your situation. 

Experts also believe that addiction and eating disorders might have common risk factors; one of which is a high level of impulse control problems. People who have eating disorders find it challenging to keep their impulses under control, and the same is true for those who have addictions.

Another common risk factor for addiction and eating disorders is a history of trauma. Traumatic events tend to lead to poor decisions because of poor coping skills. Both eating disorders and addictions offer a sort of temporary relief from the pain of trauma. Little thought is given to what might occur down the road, when the consequences of both start to really take their toll on the body. 

It’s important to note that certain types of drugs or alcohol can actually ease the pain that’s caused by eating disorders too. For example, using drugs can erase hunger pangs in those who have anorexia nervosa.

How Can Dual Diagnosis Treatment Help Those with Eating Disorders?

People who have eating disorders are as much as five times more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, according to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Dual diagnosis treatment is the best solution because it allows for the treatment of both conditions at the same time. The goals of dual diagnosis treatment include: 

  • Providing an accurate diagnosis for the current medical conditions for each patient
  • Providing a treatment plan that addresses each patient’s needs individually
  • Providing psychotherapy that gets to the source of the addiction so that recovery can occur
  • Providing group therapy and peer counseling because it has been shown to be an effective method to treat co-occurring disorders
  • Providing family therapy so that loved ones can be as involved as possible in treatment 

By combining treatments for eating disorders and addiction, staff members are able to work together to provide an excellent plan for each patient. Underlying causes for addiction can be addressed, resulting in a more holistic treatment experience.

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Get Help for Your Eating Disorder and Addiction at NorthPoint Recovery

Maybe you’ve been suffering with an eating disorder and addiction for quite some time. You may feel like you’re stuck with these diagnoses, and it’s possible that you’ve even experienced various treatment methods that refused to address both of these issues at one time. Far too many addiction treatment centers are operating on the philosophy that addictions need to be addressed before mental health conditions are addressed, and this only creates an atmosphere that’s ripe for relapse.

Here at NorthPoint Recovery, we offer dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders that can assist you with true recovery from your addiction. In addition, it will also address the symptoms behind your eating disorder and help to bring you to a place of better health, overall. If you would like to learn more about how getting help for a co-occurring disorder can help you, we’d love to talk with you about it. Please contact us right away to get started.



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