In recent years, studies have shown that almost half of those who have an eating disorder also regularly abuse drugs or alcohol. Approximately 35% of people who abuse drugs or alcohol also have an eating disorder. This trend is particularly common in young teenage girls, so parents should take note of this in case they are ever faced with either problem.
Anorexia and bulimia are the two most common eating disorders that can be directly linked to alcohol abuse. In fact, there are several similar characteristics that are shared by people who have eating disorders and substance abuse problems. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has created a list of substances that are routinely used to self-medicate, decrease appetite, and increase metabolism.
For the most part, people are treated by their physicians for one condition or the other. It is extremely uncommon for health care professionals to diagnose and treat eating disorders and alcoholism (or other substance abuse problems) in one person at the same time. There is now research, however, that indicates how significant this overlooked area of health care really is.
Such research should show health care professionals the importance of recognizing the association between eating disorders and alcohol abuse. Regular treatment providers of mental health and substance abuse need to be prepared for the presence of two different factors being at play when they see patients with one of these types of problems. Additional questioning and testing of patients with one of these medical issues is certainly necessary, as it is important to identify and diagnose these conditions as early as possible in order to facilitate treatment.
One of the largest problems facing mental health and substance abuse practitioners is the difficulty in recognizing the presence of two separate problems in patients. One of the reasons for this is that most patients who seek help for one problem tend to deny that they have any additional mental or emotional issues. If the patient is unwilling to talk about an issue, then health care providers cannot treat that person for that particular ailment. Another reason that practitioners do not recognize multiple problems in patients is that the patients simply do not realize that they have co-occurring illnesses. This may sound very similar to denial, but it is actually very different.
In some instances, mental health practitioners believe the problem of substance abuse to merely be a symptom that their patient has, and substance abuse practitioners view eating disorders in the same way. This type of viewpoint leads to a variety of misdiagnoses in patients who have both an eating disorder and a problem abusing alcohol or other drugs.
There is certainly a greater need for all health care practitioners to become better educated about the prevalence of co-occurring eating disorders and alcoholism. With greater understanding comes the ability to create proper methods of treatment that will help people to overcome both of their problems, instead of just one of them.
1. CASA News Release for About.com. “Eating Disorders, Substance Abuse Linked.” About.com: Alcoholism. //alcoholism.about.com/cs/
nutrition/a/blcasa040128.htm. Accessed 07 April 2009.
2. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. “Individuals with Eating Disorders Up to 5 Times Likelier to Abuse Alcohol and Illicit Drugs.” //www.casacolumbia.org/absolutenm/templates/Press
Releases.aspx?articleid=350&zoneid=46. Accessed 07 April 2009.
3. NIDA News Release for About.com. “Co-Occurring Disorders Becoming More Prevalent.” //alcoholism.about.com/cs/dual/a/blnida040506.htm. Accessed 07 April 2009.