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Eating Disorder Co-Occurring Recovery Resources

Written By: Phillippe Greenough

Article Updated: 11/22/2021

Number of References: 11 Sources

Struggling with an addiction can be an ordeal on its own, but when co-occurring alongside an eating disorder, help is often required if someone hopes to achieve long-term recovery. Any instance of a mental health struggle alongside substance abuse can complicate the recovery process, and eating disorders can be especially complicated. Finding professional help to treat both conditions simultaneously can help someone find relief, and begin building a life free from addiction.

In This Article:

Types of Eating Disorders

While “eating disorder” may sound like one particular thing, it is actually a family of mental health issues that includes several distinct conditions. While there are many different classes and subtypes of eating disorders, some of the more common and better-understood ones include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder

These three major types of eating disorders may have some overlapping behaviors, but there are distinguishing characteristics of each. Bulimia and binge eating disorder both involve eating large quantities of food, often with a lack of control in how much someone eats, sometimes even to the point of physical discomfort. The feature which separates the two is that bulimia involves an episode of “purging” which could include self-induced vomiting or inappropriate use of laxatives to prevent weight gain.

Anorexia is distinguished by a preoccupation with weight gain and restrictive behaviors that can include compulsive exercise, starvation, and even binge/purge phases depending on the anorexia subtype. The feature which distinguishes bulimia from the anorexia binge/purge subtype is that bulimic binge/purge is a regular occurrence that is ongoing, whereas anorexic binging and purging may come and go in phases. Something that may surprise most people, is that anorexia nervosa is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate. While it is hard to quantify, it is estimated that 10% of people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa will die from complications due to this disorder.

Eating Disorder Struggle

Substance Abuse & Eating Disorders

There is a high co-occurrence of substance use disorder and eating disorders, as people who suffer from eating disorders are more prone to substance abuse. The rates vary depending on the specific eating disorder, but anorexia nervosa binge/purge subtype (AN-B/P) appears to exhibit the highest co-occurrence, followed by bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. The binge/purge eating disorders appear to exhibit the strongest correlation to co-occurring substance use, while the restrictive eating disorders seem to exhibit the lowest rates of co-occurring substance abuse.

Among people who suffer from AN-B/P, somewhere between 26-34% also suffer from a substance use disorder. This is contrasted to 9% of the general population that has a substance use disorder. The reverse is also true, as roughly 50% of those who struggle with an eating disorder also have a substance use disorder. The occurrence of eating disorders is roughly 1% in the general population.

It is also noteworthy that substance use disorders and eating disorders tend to run in families. For example, family studies suggest that a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) of someone with anorexia has a ~10x higher chance of suffering from anorexia compared to someone with no relatives that have anorexia.

Which Drugs Are Most Commonly Used Among Those With Eating Disorders?

Since there is such a strong connection between eating disorders and substance use, are there certain drugs that are abused by this population more than others? As it turns out, yes there are. While the specific drugs of abuse seem to vary somewhat between different eating disorders, there are significantly higher rates of drug abuse overall.

One study found much higher rates of drug use among those with eating disorders compared to those without an eating disorder, including:

Certain drugs, such as sedatives and alcohol will often require detox. When used for long times or in large amounts, these drugs can produce dangerous and potentially fatal effects when someone suddenly stops using them. Other drugs such as opioids, stimulants, and marijuana do not usually produce fatal physical symptoms, but they can cause very intense psychological symptoms. Entering a detox center can reduce the risks of these more dangerous drugs as well as the psychological symptoms through the use of medical monitoring, medications, and clinical therapy.


Dual-Diagnosis Eating Disorder Recovery

While the co-occurrence of an eating disorder alongside substance abuse can complicate the recovery process, there are effective treatments for these situations. Depending on the drug and someone’s unique use habits, it may be necessary to enter a medical detox center. These facilities have the medical staff, medications, training, and experience to help someone safely and successfully make it through the most uncomfortable detox phase. These centers can also provide counseling, therapy, and support for the psychological symptoms as well as the physical, and this can go a long way toward helping someone begin building a solid foundation in recovery.

In cases where someone has both an eating disorder and substance use disorder, their chances of recovery are greatly lowered unless they receive treatment for both conditions simultaneously. Being honest and open about having an eating disorder, while it may seem scary, is the most effective way to begin getting effective help. Once someone has been open and asked for help, the next step is to follow through and be willing to receive help.

Eating Disorder Recovery

What To Look For In A Dual-Diagnosis Treatment Center

There are some complications that come along with eating disorders above and beyond those that often accompany drug or alcohol addiction. Chronic malnourishment and starvation can lead to a host of problems and making sure these are addressed quickly should be a priority. Find out if a detox center has a dietician on staff, as these dietary specialists can help someone develop a specific meal plan that can address some of the most critical issues.

In addition to dieticians and standard medical professionals, certain kinds of therapy have proven especially effective at treating both eating disorders and drug or alcohol addiction. In particular, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectic behavior therapy (DBT) have proven more effective for the treatment of eating disorders than any psychological therapy method so far.

In addition to eating disorder-specific detox treatments, there are some more general things to look for that indicate a professional, effective, and competent provider. Accreditations and certifications can go a long way toward demonstrating a dual-diagnosis treatment provider’s commitment to its clients. Some notable accreditations or certifications may include those from:

  • CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities)
  • The Joint Commission
  • NAATP (National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers)
  • LegitScript (website certification only)

Eating Disorder Resources

Aside from entering a dual-diagnosis detox center, there are other things that can help someone on their journey of recovery. There are eating disorder recovery fellowships, advocacy and prevention organizations, and support groups all over the country. Here is a list of just some of the resources available to help someone who may struggle with an eating disorder:

Eating Disorder Recovery Support Groups

Food Addicts In Recovery Anonymous: A 12 step recovery fellowship that is very inclusive, they welcome anyone who struggles with any kind of eating disorder.

Overeaters Anonymous: Another 12 step fellowship, their name may sound like it is intended for those who are overweight, but this isn’t the case. They welcome anyone who has an unhealthy relationship with body image or food.

Eating Disorders Anonymous: Based on the 12 steps, this is an all-inclusive eating disorder recovery program. As stated on their website, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to recover from an eating disorder”

Eating Disorder Information & Advocacy Resources

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