Eating disorders afflict millions of Americans each year, causing physical illness and mental distress for both the patients and the families who watch them suffer. Similarly, drug addiction causes untold damage to the addicts and the people who love them. Each of these afflictions, on its own, causes heartache and ill health, but for many, the two go hand-in-hand. People who struggle with both an eating disorder and drug addiction face even greater risks to their health than those who suffer from either alone. The road to recovery is more challenging, but with proper treatment and support, it is possible.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are a continuum of diagnoses relating to body image and eating issues. There are a variety of specific diagnoses:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bulimia nervosa
- Binge eating disorder
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
- Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder
- Unspecified Feeding or Eating DIsorder
- Rumination Disorder
The common thread amongst these diagnoses is that people with these eating disorders spend so much time focused on food, weight, and body image that it impacts their happiness and day-to-day functioning. As a result, they may suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
How Is Drug Abuse Related to Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are considered a type of mental illness, and substance abuse, including both drug and alcohol abuse, is more common in people with a mental illness diagnosis than in people without a mental illness diagnosis. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of the 43.7 million American diagnosed with a mental illness, 8.4 million also had a substance abuse disorder. A subset of that 8.4 million is people with an eating disorder who also abuse drugs. The question is, why?
One possible cause is a need to feel in control when life feels out of control. Sometimes, a person struggling with drug abuse feels that life has spiraled out of control, and taking rigid control of eating patterns feels like a way to regain control. In these cases, the substance abuse predates the eating disorder. The reverse can also happen: people struggling with an eating disorder begin to abuse drugs, specifically weight-loss drugs, in an effort to lose even more weight. They may abuse anorectic pills, appetite suppressants that were designed to replace previous amphetamine-based weight-loss pills. Examples of currently available anorectic drugs include:
- Benzphetamine (Didrex)
- Diethylproprion (Tenuate, Tepanil)
- Fenfluramine (Pondimin)
- Mazindol (Sanorex, Mazanor)
- Phendimetrazine (Bontril, Prelu-2, Plegine)
- Phentermine (Ionamin, AdipexP)
Although newer drugs tend to be less potent than amphetamines, they are still habit forming and can cause serious health problems. For example, the combination of fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine was taken out of availability in the United States after it was determined to cause heart valve problems.
The Dangers of Drug Abuse and Eating Disorders
Anorectic addiction is a serious problem because of the bodily damage inflicted by both the drug abuse and the eating disorder. When a person struggles with an eating disorder, the body is already weakened, exacerbating any negative effects of the drug abuse. The drug use may give the person extra energy and confidence in pursuing the eating disorder–feeling strong in the ability to withstand food cravings, for example. And lastly, the drug addiction can mask the eating disorder because the user may not remember whether or not he or she ate.
Eating disorders and drug addiction are dangerous conditions, but they are even more dangerous when combined. If you or someone you love struggles with both an eating disorder and substance abuse, professional help is available. Call our toll-free number today to find the right program.