Substance Use

Eating Disorders and Addiction: Is There a Link?

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Eating Disorders and Addiction

Eating disorders and substance abuse are often linked because they share common risk factors and serve similar psychological needs for individuals suffering from them. Both can be coping mechanisms for stress, trauma, or emotional difficulties, offering temporary relief from uncomfortable feelings. 

People with eating disorders may use substances to suppress appetite, cope with the emotional turmoil related to body image, or numb the physical pains associated with disordered eating behaviors. Similarly, those who abuse substances might neglect balanced nutrition, leading to eating disorders.

Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction alongside an eating disorder? Trust Zinnia Health‘s proven expertise in treating co-occurring disorders. Take the first step towards recovery today. Call us at (855) 430-9439.

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Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

People struggling with eating disorders often face additional mental health challenges like depression or anxiety and may also grapple with issues related to substance abuse. Addressing these coexisting conditions is essential for a comprehensive treatment approach.

Half of individuals with eating disorders were also found to engage in excessive alcohol use and use of illicit drugs.

The presence of substance use disorders can exacerbate the negative impact of an eating disorder.

Why Is There a Close Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Addiction?

Eating disorders often originate from a need to exert control over one’s body or emotions. In their pursuit of this elusive control, individuals may find themselves veering towards substance abuse as a form of emotional relief or coping strategy.

Individuals with bulimia nervosa might consume alcohol to diminish their hunger or induce vomiting, while those battling binge-eating disorder may use drugs that stimulate food intake.

Both conditions frequently serve as coping mechanisms for internal emotional turmoil, exacerbated by external influences such as social pressures. In a culture that often equates thinness with worth and uses substances as a social lubricant, those with low self-esteem may turn to disordered eating or substance abuse as a form of self-medication or to gain perceived social acceptance.

Which Substances Do People With Eating Disorders Abuse?

Individuals with eating disorders engage in the misuse of both illegal and legal drugs. Those with anorexia often use substances with the aim of shedding pounds, while those battling bulimia utilize drugs to curb their appetite.

The list commonly includes:


Stimulant substances such as Adderall, methamphetamine (meth), and cocaine have gained notoriety for their appetite-suppressing properties. For individuals dealing with weight concerns or distorted body image — common features of many eating disorders — these substances may seem like immediate solutions.

However, relying on stimulants sets off a dangerous cycle where physical health plummets due to malnutrition while mental well-being suffers from addiction-related repercussions.”

Over time, increased tolerance levels necessitate higher consumption, intensifying addictive tendencies and problematic eating habits.


Alcohol can serve as a coping mechanism for people with eating disorders, providing temporary relief from anxieties associated with meals or calorie intake.

This often leads to dependency and exacerbates existing nutritional deficiencies caused by irregular meal routines common in various forms of disordered eating behaviors.

Eating Disorders and Their Prevalence

Mental illnesses such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa impact many people around the world.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a complex mental health challenge characterized by an overwhelming fear of gaining weight. This fear often manifests as extreme food restriction or even self-imposed starvation. Those struggling with this condition see themselves as overweight despite often being critically underweight due to their skewed sense of reality.

Women are disproportionately affected by Anorexia Nervosa.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa involves a cycle of binge-eating episodes followed by purging behaviors, such as forced vomiting or excessive exercise, to avoid weight gain. This cycle perpetuates feelings of guilt about eating habits and further reinforces the harmful behavior pattern.

Known as Binge Eating Disorder, or simply BED, this condition — though different in some key aspects — is closely related to other eating disorders and is notably the most frequently diagnosed eating-related condition in the United States. It’s particularly characterized by the absence of any subsequent purging activities.

Don’t navigate the complexities of co-occurring disorders alone. Zinnia Health specializes in treating both drug addiction and other mental health conditions, like eating disorders. Get personalized help now by calling (855) 430-9439.

Physical Health Risks Associated with Eating Disorders

Compulsive behaviors like eating disorders carry a range of physical health risks.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa creates a ripple effect of health dangers that infiltrate multiple bodily systems. For starters, it puts your heart in jeopardy, triggering steep declines in pulse and blood pressure that can be life-threatening.

One consequence that frequently goes unnoticed is the detrimental effect on skeletal well-being.

Starvation conditions also trigger a chain reaction, causing the body to break down protein stores for energy. As a result, the production of immune cells declines, weakening the body’s natural defense mechanisms.

The severe caloric restriction also impacts neurological function, which may manifest as impaired concentration and emotional volatility.

In extreme cases, the body’s prolonged malnutrition can result in multi-organ failure, a life-threatening situation requiring immediate medical attention.

Bulimia Nervosa

One of the most concerning disorders is Bulimia Nervosa. This condition involves repeated cycles of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain. Engaging in binge-eating and purging activities can result in severe health complications, including

  • Fluid imbalance
  • Dental deterioration
  • Periodontal conditions

For example, untreated dehydration could progress to kidney dysfunction. Similarly, tooth decay and gum disease are prevalent due to regular vomiting, which exposes teeth to stomach acid — compromising oral hygiene.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is another eating disorder marked by uncontrolled consumption of large amounts of food, often leading to obesity or excessive weight gain. High cholesterol levels coupled with type II diabetes are substantial risk factors associated directly with this disorder.

Apart from these, high blood pressure, known for increasing strain on the heart and possibly leading to cardiac diseases, is yet another significant risk factor.

Treatment Approaches for Co-Occurring Eating Disorders and Addiction

Addressing co-occurring disorders, such as eating disorders intertwined with addiction, requires a comprehensive treatment approach. In this context, comprehensive means targeting both conditions simultaneously to maximize the potential for effective recovery outcomes.


Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) enables individuals battling these dual diagnoses to understand how their thought patterns influence behaviors, thereby aiding them in forging healthier coping mechanisms.

Group Therapy

Group therapy sessions offer another valuable resource by creating supportive environments where patients can share experiences and learn from others facing similar struggles. Studies suggest that communal support fosters feelings of acceptance and understanding, which are key components in any healing journey.

Nutritional Counseling

We cannot underestimate the role of nutrition in recovering from substance misuse or disordered eating habits. Nutritional counseling works to set up healthy dietary habits and provides knowledge on how nutrition impacts overall well-being.

This service often extends beyond meal planning assistance — it includes education about nutritional deficiencies caused by substance misuse or unhealthy food practices.

Mindfulness Techniques

Integrating mindfulness techniques into daily life is a strategy known to help manage stressors that frequently trigger addictive behaviors or problematic relationships with food. Yoga or meditation can reduce cravings while boosting overall well-being.

Get the Right Treatment For You

It is crucial to have comprehensive treatment plans that address both eating disorders and drug and alcohol addiction simultaneously for effective recovery outcomes.

At Zinnia Health, we offer comprehensive treatment programs tailored specifically for those dealing with dual diagnoses like eating disorders and drug and alcohol abuse. Our approach considers all facets of your well-being, including physical health and emotional stability. Connect with us at (855) 430-9439.

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(855) 430-9439
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