*This post was written by Ventura High School Senior, Madison Jaffe.
Although at first glance substance abuse and eating disorders may seem unrelated, the root of their existence can be attributed to two basic themes: impulsivity and a need for control (nationaleatingdisorders.org, futuresofpalmbeach.com). Because both diseases stem from similar traits, research has found that about “50% of individuals with an eating disorder (ED) are also abusing drugs and/or alcohol, a rate 5 times greater than what is seen in the general population” (nationaleatingdisorders.org). With these alarming numbers, it is imperative that we consider the causes of this phenomenon and our role in prevention.
If someone is already suffering from an eating disorder, the use of substances such as diet pills, thyroid medication, or stimulants like amphetamines is very tempting due to the ability of these drugs to suppress appetite or increase metabolism. Alcohol also enables eating disorders by “[facilitating] regurgitation and dehydration” (nationaleatingdisorders.org). Since these substances further promote a victim’s already unhealthy diet, pairing addiction and eating disorders together creates a perfect storm.
While it is important to recognize the correlation between these two conditions, it is even more crucial that we uncover their causes and, then, work to prevent them. According to Futures of Palm Beach, a treatment facility in Florida, one explanation for the coexistence of these two psychological struggles is that they share common triggers such as sexual assault, verbal abuse, or death. Both eating disorders and addiction are also correlated with impulsive personalities (eatingdisorderhope.com). On a more technical level, the relationship between eating disorders and substance abuse can be explained by the fact that “multiple shared neurotransmitters [are believed to be] involved in both eating and substance use disorders” (nationaleatingdisorders.org).
While eating disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse are extremely dangerous independently, combined, they are disastrous both mentally and physically. As explained by futuresofpalmbeach.com, people suffering from anorexia and substance abuse are far more likely to overdose due to their dangerously low body weight. Likewise, those plagued by bulimia often experience bleeding and pain, which is caused by the addition of “corrosive alcohol to tissues ravaged by vomiting” (futuresofpalmbeach.com). Attempts to numb and control one’s pain by means of restrictive eating, binging, purging, or overdosing only increases emotional and physical pain and allows the disease to gain greater control over the victims’ lives.
With these terrible realities in mind, we must realize that there is absolutely no shame in seeking treatment. In fact, taking this proactive step shows great courage. We all deserve a life of happiness, and treatment is the healthiest, most effective path to achieving this goal. While there are many treatment options, the most common is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). According to psychcentral.com, CBT is an effective treatment method for addiction, depression, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses. CBT focuses on identifying how the patients’ thoughts, mental images, etc. affect their behaviors and perspectives. This information is then used to reverse false beliefs and unhealthy habits. Compared to some rehabilitation programs, CBT is relatively short; it usually takes about five to ten months of weekly counseling appointments. For more information, please visit: http://psychcentral.com/lib/in-depth-cognitive-behavioral-therapy/.
Another method, which is a more prolonged modification of CBT, is called dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). DBT is commonly sought out by patients struggling with multiple issues. It “emphasizes the psychosocial aspects of treatment” with the goal of creating “lives worth living” (psychcentral.com, behavioraltech.com). This recovery option consists of four components (skills training groups, individual therapy, phone coaching, and a therapist consultation team) and teaches patients four skills (mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation) (behavioraltech.org). For more information, please visit: http://behavioraltech.org/resources/whatisdbt.cfm.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, addiction, etc. please see this link to find treatment information and an expert near you: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov. To reach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
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