Eating disorders are somewhat of a new phenomenon in the world. Though eating disorders have also been an issue long in the past, society didn’t really start addressing it as a disorder until the 1950s, when it was added to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). These kinds of disorders can be extremely dangerous towards a person’s overall well-being. Extreme weight loss/gain is something no human should ever do to their body, for the sake of their health. One thing many people do not realize is that an eating disorder is very similar to that of a substance abuse disorder, and the two often go hand-in-hand. What we often find with people who struggle with eating disorders is that they also suffer from some kind of substance dependency, or vice versa. Today, we’re going to discuss how eating disorders and substance abuse disorders relate to each other. 

Eating Disorder vs. Substance Abuse Disorder

First, we need to define eating and substance abuse disorders. An eating disorder is a mental illness that causes a person to develop unhealthy and unusual disturbances in their eating habits and their view on food. There are typically 3 different kinds of eating disorders: Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating:

  • Anorexia is when a person has 15% less than normal healthy body weight for their height. This is usually due to limited eating, a mental fixation of being thin, or denial.  
  • Bulimia another unhealthy mental perception of eating. People who struggle with Bulimia often lack a sufficient and healthy diet throughout the day, so they binge eat thousands of calories in one sitting. This typically results in a person overeating, expanding their stomach to the point of stomach pain, and then developing worries of weight gain. People who suffer from Bulimia will make themselves throw up out of weight gain fear, resulting in an unhealthy cycle of binge eating and forced vomiting. 
  • Binge Eating, as we described earlier, is when a person can’t seem to stop themselves from overeating. Sometimes, people eat as much food as they possibly can, resulting in stomach aches and an expanding stomach. This can cause things such as obesity and other health issues that come along with a disorder such as that.

Next, let’s discuss what a substance abuse disorder is:

  • Substance abuse disorders are essentially diseases that affect a person’s brain and the ability to control their actions. When a person suffers from a substance abuse disorder, they often abuse substances such as marijuana, alcohol, nicotine products, opioids, or illicit substances like heroin or cocaine. Substance abuse works through 5 stages: experimentation, regular use, risky use, dependence, and finally the development of a substance abuse disorder. 

One terrifying thing about these two disorders is that they can often be found together. People who suffer from a substance abuse disorder often have some kind of eating disorder and people with eating disorders often have some kind of substance abuse disorder. Why is that? We often see these two disorders go hand-in-hand because they develop in the same regions of the brain that deal with regulation. Al Toledo, a primary therapist here at Scottsdale Recovery Center, recently discussed this in an interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM, “Both of them take place in the same region of the brain, basically dealing with regulation and being able to abstain from behaviors.” Since they are located in the same area of the brain, the two disorders must be treated together as co-occuring disorders. 

Co-occuring disorders are when a person suffers from two kinds of mental disorders, oftentimes some kind of substance abuse disorder and another mental illness. If a person decides to treat only one of these disorders, the other disorder still lingers. If a person goes to rehab to treat their substance abuse disorder, but fails to bring proper attention to their eating disorder, the addiction may be treated, but the eating disorder could easily trigger a relapse further down the road. This is exactly what singer Demi Lovato said happened to her. 

Demi Lovato vs. Addiction & Eating Disorders

In a recent interview with Ashley Graham on the “Pretty Big Deal” podcast, Lovato discussed her recent lapse in sobriety and what may have caused it. Lovato is someone who hasn’t kept her struggles a secret from the public. Even in the early years of her career, she had to be checked into rehab multiple times to deal with a substance abuse disorder she had developed. After some time being sober, Demi had a slip in her recovery and overdosed. It was hard for most people to understand why this happened, but in her interview with Ashley Graham, she discusses why this happened. 

Demi opened up about her struggles with an eating disorder and how it most likely caused her relapse with substance abuse. Lovato said, “I honestly think that’s kind of what led to everything happening over the past year was just me thinking I found recovery when I didn’t, and then living this kind of lie and trying to tell the world I was happy with myself when I really wasn’t.” As you can see, it’s very easy to sweep underlying issues under the rug, but we need to keep them out in the open so we can properly address and fight them. Lovato believes that the underlying eating disorder triggered some unnecessary, and unexpected, stress in her life which then coaxed her to use substances again. There’s no doubt that this was most likely what caused the relapse after some time in sobriety.

We encourage all of you out there, whether you’re suffering from addiction, an eating disorder, or both, seek treatment for these issues today. Eating disorders and substance abuse disorders oftentimes go hand-in-hand with one another; one can cause the other. Look to Demi Lovato’s story as guidance, she was able to realize that an underlying eating disorder was likely the root of her relapse and sought help for both issues. If you treat one, you can treat the other. Reach out to your local addiction treatment center today to start discussing options for co-occuring disorder treatment.

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