Chemical Dependency and Eating Disorders
Individuals suffering with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or compulsive eating disorder face a number of challenges when it comes to receiving effective care for their disease. The road to recovery is made even harder when the eating disorder co-occurs with a chemical dependency issue. Mental health professionals define this common co-occurrence of a psychiatric disorder and a substance abuse problem as a “dual diagnosis.”
Clinical research has established that nearly half of all patients undergoing treatment for an eating disorder also have an alcohol or drug abuse problem as opposed to less than 10% of the general population. Fortunately, since the initial comprehensive study of the correlation of eating disorders and chemical dependency, by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) in the 1990s, the number of qualified treatment programs designed to handle the complex physiological, emotional and psychological aspects of a dual diagnosis has increased significantly.
The study conducted by CASA delineated a commonality of behavioral patterns and personal patient histories for both those individuals struggling with chemical dependency issues as well as those suffering with eating disorders. Some, but not all, of the predominant shared behaviors or cultural influences include:
- obsessive or compulsive behavior
- low self-esteem
- predisposition to chronic disease
- high susceptibility to media imagery and/or messaging
- Upbringing in a dysfunctional family unit
Considering that eating disorders often pose grave risks to those afflicted, it’s no surprise that the combination of a chemical dependency issue further exacerbates the potential danger for the individual sufferer. When chemical dependency is added to the picture, the chance of serious illness with lethal consequences increases exponentially due to the overall physical toll the disease has imposed on the eating disordered individual. Typically, eating disorders weaken the sufferer’s body and severely affect the sufferer’s immune system invariably opening the door to complications from disease.
It is essential that an individual dealing with an eating disorder and a chemical dependency issue locate a treatment center that specializes in dual-diagnosis patients. Only a comprehensive and individualized program of care that addresses both the psychological and emotional problems of eating disorders along with the physiological issues posed by chemical dependency will allow for a lasting recovery.