Eating disorders and drug addictions are often looked at as separate entities but for many people, these illnesses overlap. According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, up to a half of people who suffer from eating disorders, especially bulimia, abuse drugs and alcohol compared to only 9 percent of the general population. The study also noted that 35 percent of drug abusers have eating disorders compared to only 3 percent of the population. Why do these two diseases so commonly overlap?
The Similarities between Eating Disorders and Addiction
Eating disorders and drug addictions closely resemble one another in many ways. Speaking from my experience with an eating disorder, if you were to ask me if my eating disorder was similar to a drug addiction, I would probably answer kind of. Sort of anyway.
Considering that I work in the drug addiction field and meet drug addicts on a daily basis, my opinion of my eating disorder has totally shifted. My personal experience was very mild compared to the stories I hear on a weekly basis and I am very grateful for that. I did not steal from anyone or lose a ton of money or become homeless over not eating.
Of course, everyone’s experience of drug addiction is different, just like everyone’s experience of an eating disorder is different. Eating disorders can potentially get to the point of destruction where a person cannot eat at all. Eating becomes impossible in both a physical and psychological way. Further into an eating disorder like anorexia, eating can actually cause significant harm without careful clinical monitoring. A condition like anorexia cachexia is an involuntary wasting away disorder in which a person loses skeletal muscle and fat uncontrollably. Even if the recovering eating disorder patient eats just like the doctor ordered, the body will refuse to utilize the nutrients they are ingesting and the body will continue to waste away.
The inability to control compulsive behavior is a strong similarity between eating disorders and any form of addiction. Those with eating disorders have severe harsh thoughts that cause them to follow a strict regimen of starvation, purging or uncontrollable eating sessions.
Eating disorders are often classified as process addictions. Process addictions are addictions like gambling, sex, porn addiction and eating disorders. Screening for eating disorder is very similar for screening for drug addiction.
Clinicians look for symptoms like:
- Preoccupation, cravings and rituals surrounding an addictive behavior
- Escalation in frequency or intensity over time
- Sacrificing interests to spend more time on an addictive substance/behavior
- Inability to stop a destructive behavior despite repeated attempts
- Loved ones expressing concern about a particular behavior
- Continued use of a substance/behavior despite negative consequences
Finally, the root cause of eating disorders and drug addiction are similar. Research suggests there is a genetic component to both as well as links to certain chemical processes in the brain. Personality traits such as impulsivity, social pressures, family dynamics, media messages, environmental triggers and emotional trauma all play into why these types of disorders tend to emerge in someone.
Eating disorders and addictions tend to emerge during stressful times as a coping mechanism in order to deal with difficult emotions or self-medicated. Underlying mental health issues like depression or anxiety tend to get swept under the rug in favor of addictive behaviors. Both are chronic diseases with resistance to treatment and high relapse rates, requiring intensive, long-term therapy.
Differences That Impact Recovery
Although eating disorder and drug addictions are similar in some ways, there are definitely distinct differences between the two. Addicts can completely cut off their relationship with drugs and alcohol while people with addiction cannot abstain from food. Those with eating disorders are therefore thrown the challenge of trying to develop a healthy relationship with food by learning to eat in public and sit at a dinner table without relapsing. For this reason, eating disorder treatment must address the eating disorder and help the patient learn how to develop a healthier relationship with food. This process is extremely difficult even for those who do not have an eating disorder.
People with eating disorders acquire their opinion of themselves depending on their weight and/or appearance. When a person is severely underweight, their self-worth is completely influenced by the number on the scale. The suicide rate for someone with anorexia is 57 times what is common. The self-loathing results in this suicidality. People with eating disorders are extremists. While most people would like to lose a few pounds, a person with an eating disorder will go to extremes to accomplish the task ot weight loss through starvation, purging and excessive exercise.
The Dual Diagnosis: Eating Disorders and Addiction
Now that we know the distinct similarities and differences between drug addiction and eating disorders, we must understand cross addiction. In dual diagnosis centers, patients are treated for both conditions simultaneously. This type of care is very difficult to find as most treatment centers are ill-equipped to treat both conditions simultaneously.
Few treatment centers offer invaluable tools such as
- Meal-time support
- Access to eating disorder specialists
- Intensive medical monitoring
In addition, eating disorder programs are not usually competent in treating addiction. Still a large body of research shows that dual diagnosis and treatment is essential for a full recovery. When treated separately, the patient only gets help for one of their conditions. As a result, they are left to go from one treatment center to another and end up stuck in an endless cycle of remission and relapse. This observation exemplifies how these conditions are merely coping mechanisms. In absence of coping skills, the person will always be fighting one or the other condition.
Recovery is a long-term process. Thirty days is not enough time to cure either disease. Studies show that only 25 percent will fully recover and do well throughout their life. The earlier a person is admitted into treatment, the better. Unfortunately, over 50 percent will fall into the relapse/readmit cycle, 25 percent will continue to struggle and close to 10 percent of eating disorder patients die from the disease.
The link between eating disorders and substance abuse is often overlooked. This is a detriment to both the facilities and the patients. There is a need to treat both illnesses simultaneously so that our sickest patients can recovery and stay there for life. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
If you think the opioid addiction crisis is affecting mostly younger age groups, think again. A recent survey reveals there has been a pronounced age trend in those treated for opioid addiction. Adults ages 50 and older now make up the bulk of the opioid treatment population in New York City, which has the largest methadone treatment system in the United States.
There has been a major change in drug use patterns among older adults. Older adults are not only being admitted to treatment programs for substance abuse, they are also using injection drugs at a higher rate overall. As of now, little research has been done regarding the epidemiology, health status and functional impairment in this older population of opioid users.
Previous studies that have been done focused mostly on treatment admission therefore may not capture the utilization of substance abuse treatment overtime. The data does not fully demonstrate the way older adults over 50 are aging in the treatment programs.
As a result, researchers affiliated with New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), and NYU’s School of Medicine (NYUSoM) set out to understand the trends in the older populations entering opioid treatment programs. The study emphasized on older adults and focused on trends specifically in New York City since it is home to one of the largest methadone treatment systems in the US and is known for providing access to treatment in the public system.
The study, titled “Demographic Trends of Adults in New York City Opioid Treatment Programs- An Aging Population,” utilized data and allowed researchers to characterize basic demographic, substance use, and physical impairments. Benjamin Han, MD, who led the study, found notable information regarding the age trend.
“Most notably we found a pronounced age trend in those utilizing opioid treatment programs from 1996 to 2012, with adults aged 50 and older becoming the majority treatment population.”
Researchers conducting the study found that in 1996, individuals aged 50-59 made up only 7.8% of the total patient population. However, in 2012, patients 50-59 make up close to 35.9% of the population. Older age groups over 60 saw a dramatic increase in numbers as well. The population of substance abuse in that age group shifted from 1.5% to 12%.
“These increases are especially striking, considering there was about a 7.6% decrease in the total patient population over that period of time, and suggests that we are facing a never before seen epidemic of older adults with substance use disorders and increasing numbers of older adults in substance abuse treatment. ” says Dr. Han.
Even more interesting, those age 40 and below who made up 56.2% of patients in 1996 only make up 20.5% of total patients as of 2012. Researchers believe the population of older adults utilizing opioid treatment programs is likely to continue to increase over the next decade.
Further studies are required to better understand the specific and unique health needs of this rowing population. In addition, further research is needed to understand how substance use can complicate care in terms of treating these older clients for other illnesses. Health implications increase as we get older so it is difficult for doctors to find a balance between treating patients without increasing the odd of substance abuse.
Overall, it is important that we do not stereotype drug addiction based on our perception on who we believe is more likely to struggle with substance abuse. Time and time again, the facts come out that show that addiction can affect anyone, regardless of their demographic. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
Photo of Author
Author: Justin Mckibben
As of November 28th, 2015 it will officially be 2 years since my last drink.
That’s 730 days.
63,072,000 seconds… miracles!
I can’t even begin to imagine where the time went. Honestly when I break it down in numerical measurements it seems like such a tremendous thing, but when I look back at the last year from my perspective it was like just yesterday I was in detox, clueless on how to scrape together some semblance of a life. No idea how to stay sober a few hours… and now I can’t remember the last time I even considered a drink.
I remember talking about how they told me the “first year is a gift,” and how quickly I discovered it was true. Now the cliché I have slowly started to empathize with is,
“The longer you stick around, the less you feel like you know.”
When I first found a glimmer of clarity in early sobriety I started to get this senseless idea rattling around my hazy head that someday I will have it all figured out, preferably after 6 months sober- but I’ll settle for 9 months if there is a bonus, like a car or a girlfriend.
By the grace of God, it took me much longer than 9 months to even get close to having either one of those things, but what I did get was more clarity and more compassion from my peers as I came to the gradual realization that even with 1 year+ sobriety I didn’t know s***. The funny thing is today I’m grateful to know that I know even less than I thought I knew; about life and relationships, about what God and spirituality meant, and about how to truly serve others. Why grateful? Because it means I have so much more to grow from.
The second year for me wasn’t about my addiction, it was about understanding myself; my emotions and my actions. With sobriety came feelings I hadn’t felt in a long time that got sieved through a slightly sensible yet more sensitive perspective to the point of perforation, and these are a few things that saved me my second year sober.
As simple as it sounds and as easy as it is to forget, gratitude saved me a lot this past year. I’m not talking about just saying thank you or appreciating the things I have been blessed with, but actually taking action in response to the things I’ve been given in order to assure I can keep up my end of the deal.
Being grateful for me this year has meant being responsible for what is in my power. While I found it easy to be grateful the first year, I noticed it became easier my second year sober to forget about the things I should be most grateful for- especially the simple things like being alive and healthy enough to experience the world the way I do today.
I had to be reminded a lot by the people closest to me how amazing my life is compared to what it was drinking and using drugs. From that perspective I was able to be a more effective friend and take more responsibility for the direction my life was going now that drinking and drugs didn’t control my life.
We have all heard how “acceptance is the answer to all my problems,” but have we really taken the time to evaluate what we can and cannot accept?
I had to understand acceptance meant acknowledging the fact that, like I said earlier, I don’t know nearly as much about living a real life as I thought I did- and that’s OK.
I had to accept that things will be painful, people will hurt me and I will hurt people (even though I try not to more than ever); that sobriety has showed me how to begin having relationships, but it does not mean I will always know how to treat people.
I learned I had to accept the world as imperfect and still see how beautiful it was. I have to accept and understand my own ignorance to life at times, and I have to accept the responsibility to try and learn.
Knowing that I am allowed to believe in myself again was huge. Learning that I am not expected to be perfect but I am expected to be decent and align my integrity with my ambitions changed a lot for me. My second year sober showed me there is no shame in a desire to succeed if my labors are built on a foundation of humility.
Knowing that who I was and who I am are not the same gave me the confidence I needed to believe I could actually be a good, just and loving person. Not limiting myself to the standards of “addict behavior” as an excuse for failure or inconsiderate self-indulgence meant having the confidence to know what I would and would NOT accept for my future. I was put in a position this year when I had to make a decision that would hurt me one way or the other, but I had the confidence to believe my feelings DO matter, despite my desire to settle for saving face.
It’s not easy to trust for us. Yes, addicts and alcoholics… but realistically all human beings can have a tough time with it. My second year I learned how to trust- not just the people closest to me, but just my capacity to be happy.
If not for the spiritual element of the 12 Step Fellowship I wholeheartedly believe I never would have been gifted with the spiritual journey of evolution I have today that gave me trust. The second year was full of moments when I had to sit and question what it was that was working in my life, and I had to admit to myself I was still pretty oblivious, but I had trust in the process.
With the gratitude for what I had been given came acceptance of what work was still ahead of me; of what I had to deal with or without. With that acceptance of the things beyond my grasp or control came confidence in my ability to survive and stay sober regardless; to be better than I ever was. And with that confidence came the trust that living my life to the best of my ability with civility and compassion, while seeking spirituality, would underwrite new dimensions of freedom to my second year sober.
Emotional sobriety is still an abstract concept to me, and sometimes it seems pretty subjective, but all I have gathered so far is that it includes these 4 things.
A lot happened my second year sober; I bought a new car, I got my heart broken, I lost a few friends and I discovered new passions in my life. I look in the mirror most mornings and cannot even begin to imagine how different things are, and its inexplicable considering I still feel like I didn’t do much to deserve the unbelievable life I have now.
I don’t know much, sometimes I think I never will, but I know my heart has been rapt with the impact of these last 365 days, and the most incredible article is that I haven’t needed to drink through any of it. It is still amazing to me when I honestly think about it.
When I really look at where I was November 27th, 2013… I cannot express in any number of pretty and artsy words how quickly it all became so different… but I know it all came from one place- love.
While our lives should consist of the things we are passionate about, the things that we love and the people who love us, we are not the only ones in life that matter. Something I learned in my first year sober is that has not changed is that I need to help others find the kind of sobriety that saved me from myself. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.
For many, thanksgiving is a time of coming together, enjoying family and of course eating. Yum! However, for some, Thanksgiving can be a time of temptation. For those early in their recovery, it is important to remember the tools that kept you sober as you enter the holiday season. Remember to set boundaries and know your limits.
A recent article delved into several ways to maintain your sobriety and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday worry free. Here are five that stood out as excellent ways of enjoying and continuing your sobriety over the Thanksgiving holiday.
- Don’t Do All the Cooking: It is important to have a low-stress holiday especially toward the beginning of recovery. Cooking for a ton of people can be incredibly stressful. Instead, have friends and family bring a dish and have a pot-luck style thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps going out to eat will give you a better sense of mind. In the early stages of recovery, it is important to not become overwhelmed.
- Write a Gratitude List: Be thankful for where you are in your life at this present moment. Be present. Writing a list of what you are thankful for reminds you that you are on the right path and also prevents temptation. If you are stressed and lose sight of what the holidays are about, write a gratitude list to bring you attention to what matters most: spending time with those you love.
- Volunteer: Volunteering over thanksgiving can be an amazing experience. Most places take tons and tons of volunteers and it is one of the warmest feelings in the world to help feed the hungry on Thanksgiving Day. Seeing the faces of people in need having a warm thanksgiving meal allows you to feel grateful for the blessings you have been given. You may also consider visiting a relative in a nursing home or assisting with dinner for veterans. There are food pantries and kitchens all over the nation that need volunteer help around this time of the year. Volunteering is a great way to place your energy in something higher than yourself.
- Go to a 12 Step Meeting: Remember to keep up with your routine if you are part of a 12-step fellowship. It is always a good idea to go to a meeting where you can share any concerns you have about the holiday season and acquire a network of support. The holidays are a good time to travel and be with family, however even if you are not in town, there are meeting all over that you can attend.
- Have a “Friendsgiving”: Maybe you struggle to get along with your family and the holidays are nerve-racking for you. If so, it might be a good idea to not visit your family and instead stay home and host a friends giving dinner. It may be hard for them to understand but explain to your family that you are putting your recovery first and that you are setting yourself up for success in your sobriety. Perhaps another year, you will feel more comfortable spending time with them.
The holiday season is a great time to be with family and friend but remember your health comes first. Take care of yourself be grateful for how far you have come. If you are still struggling with an addiction, now is the time to get help and overcome it. Give your family the peace of mind knowing that you are on the path to overcoming your disease. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)
If you’ve been to enough bars, you have witnessed the following scenario: That guy or girl that just seems to switch into an aggressive impulsive temperamental person the minute they down a few drinks. You know the type: The drinker that ends up in some sort of uncalled for unreasonable fight at the end of the night or worse, is kicked out the bar by several bouncers.
What’s that about? Alcohol affects people in many ways. While one person can light up and become a social butterfly, another person becomes temperamental and unbearable. According to new research, it turns out that aggressive behavior from drinking may be linked to a genetic mutation.
Researchers in Finland found that over 100,000 of the country’s residents, roughly 2.2% of the population, suffer from a serotonin 2B receptor gene mutation which is broadly associated with poor impulse control and aggressive behaviors.
For the study, they assessed personality questionnaires and both aggression and alcoholism screening tests for the 14 people carrying the gene, as well as the 156 non-carriers.
Their findings revealed that those with serotonin 2B receptor gene mutation “demonstrated aggressive outbursts, got into fights and behaved in an impulsive manner under the influence of alcohol. They were also arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol more often than the controls.”
Lead researcher Roope Tikkanen, of the University of Helsinki, and his team noted other personality traits in these gene carriers such as:
- Attachment Issues
Tikkanen did note, however, that their findings could be skewed due to a small sample size and that half of the mutation group was comprised of female relatives of violent offenders.
“The impact of one gene on complex phenomena is typically minor,” said Tikkanen. “But it is possible to identify the impact of such a genetic mutation in the Finnish population, as our historical isolation has led to a relatively homogenous gene pool.”
Regardless, this is not the first study to discover a possible link between a gene mutation and alcoholism. A study published in 2013 in the journal Nature Communication discovered that the gene Gabrb1 regulated alcohol consumption, but can lead to a drinking problem when faulty.
Still, until there is a true answer to why some people are aggressive while drunk, the only solution is awareness. Alcohol reduces our ability to think straight. It narrows our focus of attention and loosens our inhibitions. Alcohol can result in saying what is on our mind without thinking of the consequences which can have dangerous outcomes.
The way we process information is affected by alcohol too. We are more likely to misinterpret other people’s behavior and misread social cues. That is one of the main reasons why aggressive behavior is so common. Frequently, situations are perceived in a different way because of the effect alcohol has on our brains.
Another reason for aggressive drunken behaviors lies in the fact that often we hold things in and when we are drunk, we latch on to alcohol as an excuse to act aggressively and bluntly. People believe that socially, their behavior will be more accepted since they were drinking (the “blame it on the alcohol” effect). Aggressive actions are usually more easily explained and forgiven when someone has been drinking. Therefore, if you want to be aggressive, you will do so without experiencing the same consequences you would if sober.
No matter the reason for drinking, alcohol can become disruptive to your life and hinder your success. If you feel like you are losing control, it could be time for you to talk to a professional about your drinking habits. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.