eatingdisordersubstanceabuseLinks 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:, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse [CASA] at Columbia University, 2003.

anorexiainmenAnorexia in Men: More Common Than You’d Think

Although most associate anorexia nervosa with women, studies show that many men suffer from the disorder as well. Anorexia is a severe, life-threatening disorder in which the individual refuses to maintain a minimally normal body weight, is intensely afraid of gaining weight, and exhibits a significant distortion in the perception of the shape or size of his body, as well as dissatisfaction with his body shape and size.

In men, behavioral characteristics can include: difficulty eating with others, lying about eating, frequently weighing self, preoccupation with food, focus on certain body parts, and/or disgust with body size or shape. These men may also participate in excessive dieting, fasting, restricted diets and have food rituals. They may have a preoccupation with body-building, weight lifting, or muscle toning and exercise compulsively.

Emotionally and mentally, men with anorexia tend to be depressed, isolate themselves socially, perfectionistic, controlling, and have a low sense of self worth. They often also have an intense fear of becoming fat or gaining weight and may have difficulty expressing their feelings.

Physically, anorexic men often have a low body weight (15% or more below what is expected for age, height, activity level). They have thinning hair or hair loss, low testosterone levels, decreased balance, lack of energy and lower body temperature, pulse rate and blood pressure.

In a recent study conducted by the National Eating Disorders Association, they found that 10 million men in the United States will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. Further, 33 % of adolescent males use unhealthy weight control behaviors, 37% of men who binge eat experience depression, and 43% of American men are dissatisfied with their bodies.

So, with those staggering statistics, eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, are not specific to women. Men struggle a lot with their eating perceptions and body perceptions as well.

Eating-DisorderAnorexic Teen Hid Weights in Clothes to Appear Heavier

A recent investigation in the United Kingdom, concerning an anorexic teen who tragically died 9 years ago, has found that the teen hid weights in her clothing to fool the school nurse into thinking she was heavier.

Emma Carpenter, just 17 at the time of her death due to anorexia, appears to have lost more than a stone (14 pounds) in the week just before she died. Her organs failed her and she passed away just three days before Christmas in 2006 with a body mass index of only 10.5. Emma had battled anorexia for three years prior and was being monitored by the nurses at her school. The nurses would weigh Emma often, but appear to have been fooled by the weights she hid in her clothing before being weighed.

When questioned, the nurses both expressed that with Emma’s anorexic condition, she should have been hospitalized sooner. Emma was only hospitalized 10 days before her death. Doctors at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham claim that she would not have died if she had been referred to hospital sooner. Dr. Timothy Bowling, a consultant gastroenterologist at Nottingham Universities Hospital Trust, said: “(Anorexic) Patients who come to me with a BMI of between 12 and 13 are normally saveable. When they come to me with BMIs of nines and 10s then I am really breaking sweat. Had I got Emma when she had a BMI of 12 plus, I believe, on the balance of probability, she would have survived.”

Emma’s grandmother was also concerned about her anorexia at the time just before her passing. She decided to “strip” weigh her (making her remove all of her clothing) and found that her weight had dropped 16 pounds since the last time she had weighed her. The hearing at Nottingham Coroner’s Court is still continuing.

Anorexia is a devastating emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. Many individuals, both girls and boys, and women and men suffer from this debilitating disease. Instilling healthy body image and being aware of those we love can help prevent these damaging thought patterns that drive individuals to starve themselves (many to death) by becoming anorexic.

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