Links between Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse
A recent study published by CASA (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) has shown a strong link between substance abuse and eating disorders in women. Other studies show that at least half of women with eating disorders also abuse alcohol or drugs compared with only 9% of the general population (Columbia University, 2003). Further, both those with eating disorders and those struggling with substance abuse share risk factors and personality characteristics.
The study reports that the common risk factors include:
• occurrence in times of transition or stress
• common brain chemistry
• common family history
• low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, or impulsivity
• history of sexual or physical abuse
• unhealthy parental behaviors and low monitoring of children’s activities
• unhealthy peer norms and social pressures
• susceptibility to messages from advertising and entertainment media
The study reports that the common shared characteristics include:
• obsessive preoccupation, craving, compulsive behavior, secretiveness, and rituals
• experience mood-altering effects, social isolation
• linked to other psychiatric disorders or suicide
• difficult to treat, life threatening
• require intensive therapy
• chronic diseases with high relapse rates
Another overlap is that eating disorders and substance abuse often both begin with experimentation. Often individuals engaged in these behaviors are attempting to distract or protect themselves from underlying problems by means of excessive drinking, drug use, eating, or dieting. While these behaviors are intended to shield, they become self-destructive by consequence. Struggling with both substance abuse and eating disorders is overwhelming and most often needs the help of a trained professional to overcome.
Sources: socialworktoday.com, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse [CASA] at Columbia University, 2003.