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Anorexia and Substance Abuse

anorexia and substance abuseAnorexia is one of the most deadly mental health disorders. It occurs when individuals deprive themselves of food and basic nutrition in an effort to lose weight. While most people assume that anorexia only has to do with the desire to lose weight, it is often associated with deeper issues. Anorexic individuals may have an intense desire to exert control in their lives and this is manifested in their ability to control their food intake and therefore control their bodies’ sizes.

Anorexia oftentimes occurs alongside substance abuse issues. When this occurs, it is known as a dual diagnosis. It is not always known which came first – the eating disorder or the substance abuse issue. For some people, both issues seem to begin simultaneously. For others, one condition may precede the other. In the past, co-occurring issues were treated separately. But today, it’s believed that treating both conditions as a dual diagnosis leads to the best long-term recovery results.

How Common Is This Dual Diagnosis?

girlAccording to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, eating disorders are more common in those who struggle with substance abuse issues. There are various beliefs as to why this is the case. One theory is that those who suffer from anorexia often deal with depression and anxiety issues that are so common with the disease. As a result, they may be more likely to turn to drugs – street drugs, over-the-counter drugs, or even prescription drugs – in an effort to turn off these feelings of sadness and anxiety. Likewise, anorexic individuals may be more likely to drink alcohol excessively in an effort to escape their feelings of low self-esteem, inadequacy and depression. While anorexic individuals may be hesitant to drink due to the calories that come with alcohol, they may forego food altogether, choosing to “save” their calories for drinking; this condition is sometimes referred to as “drunkorexia.”

Anorexia is also linked to the abuse of various substances in an effort to further the anorexic’s primary goal of weight loss. Many anorexic individuals smoke cigarettes in an effort to use nicotine to suppress their appetite. Smoking with the goal of weight loss can quickly turn into severe nicotine addiction. Anorexics may also abuse laxatives in an attempt to have the food they do eat pass through their systems more quickly. While people may weigh less on the scale after taking laxatives, most of the weight lost is water weight and not actual fat loss.

How Anorexia Affects Substance Consumption

Since those who suffer from anorexia often have much lower body weights than is deemed healthy for their height and frame, substances of abuse tend to affect them in different ways. This means that drugs and alcohol can be even more damaging to their bodies due to their disordered eating habits. Since anorexia already comes with a host of health risks, these risks are only exacerbated by substance abuse. Common health issues associated with anorexia and substance abuse include:

  • Skin conditions
  • Dehydration
  • Intestinal issues
  • Liver problems
  • Fatigue
  • Body pains
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Heart issues
  • Circulation problems
  • Menstrual cycle issues
  • More likely to suffer broken bones
  • Teeth health deterioration
  • Renal problems

Treatment for Substance Abuse and Anorexia

treatmentDual diagnosis treatment is essential in order to address the root causes behind both the anorexia and the substance abuse issues. Comprehensive care will treat the entire person – addressing both the eating disorder and the addiction issue – and dealing with the issues that relate to both conditions. It’s essential to seek out a treatment program that has experience in treating both conditions, and ideally a center that has treated people in your particular situation.

One-on-one therapy with a counselor can be a vital part of your dual diagnosis treatment plan. In individual therapy, you’ll address the reasons behind your eating disorder and your substance abuse issue. Your therapist may combine various techniques, such as the use of cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy, to restructure your thoughts in relation to your actions. In addition, group therapy is often utilized in dual diagnosis recovery programs. In these group sessions, you’ll meet with other recovering individuals who are in the same situation you are in. You can share your own experiences in recovery and learn from the experiences of others as well. When considering a treatment program, it’s ideal that you find one that specializes in both anorexia and addiction treatment, ensuring that you’ll be in group therapy with likeminded individuals who can truly aid your recovery process.

Nutritional counseling is also a vital part of recovery from both anorexia and substance abuse. Since the body has been deprived of many essential nutrients while struggling with both disorders, it’s essential to regain a place of balance and health. Nutritional counselors can help you create and maintain a nutrition plan that is in the best interest of your long-term health.

Here at The Orchid, we offer comprehensive treatment for women suffering from a dual diagnosis of anorexia and substance abuse. We know that women come into treatment with a unique set of issues that need to be addressed and we do just that in our female-only center. Call us today for more information on our treatment facility.

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