What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is not a simple illness for it can cause fatal effects on the health and mind of the person. It is a behavioral disorder where the person can either have too little or too much food intake within the day.

An individual diagnosed with this disorder has relentless thoughts about body weight, shape, and food intake. It affects both males and females but it mostly happens to women ages 13 to 17 years.

In general, there are three forms of eating disorder which include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating. Each type has its specific trait and symptoms to observe in order to tell which eating disorder a person is experiencing.

What Is the Relationship of Eating Disorder and Substance Abuse?

Addiction and eating disorders both alter the normal behavior and mood of any person. These two conditions target the reward center of the brain. Continuous abuse of these substances impairs the normal function of the reward center which leads to tolerance and dependence in order to receive the same initial rewarding effect.

Certain substances when abused have a specific impact on the appetite of the person. For instance, most stimulants like heroin and cocaine are good appetite suppressors. Consequently, the use of these stimulants can lead to Anorexia Nervosa. People with Anorexia have higher risks of abusing substances which reduce food intake.

Alcohol use disorder also induces eating disorders particularly inhibiting calorie intake. This eating disorder is also known by the slang term Drunkorexia. A person with this condition inhibits oneself from eating too much food due to high-calorie intake from drinking.

Meanwhile, some substances such as cannabis or marijuana boost a person’s appetite. This substance has a therapeutic potential in treating patients with Anorexia Nervosa. However, if abused, this can lead to excessive food intake which poses a higher chance of being overweight.

Overall, both substance abuse and eating disorders work both ways in inducing and magnifying each other.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder?

A better understanding of this condition includes knowing the signs and symptoms. This is important to detect so that a separate treatment can be done to cure this behavioral disorder.

Below are the general symptoms of an eating disorder:

  • Frequent weight change
  • Constant behavioral shifts from overeating and fasting
  • Moments of depressive episodes
  • Social isolation
  • Extreme appetite suppression despite being underweight
  • Intense consciousness of the fat and calorie level of food
  • Cooks special food menus for others but does not partake in eating

Each three forms of these eating disorders have specific symptoms manifested in an individual. Below are the three forms of eating disorders and their corresponding symptoms.

  1. Anorexia nervosa: People with this eating disorder oftentimes see themselves as overweight.


  • Unhealthy body shape – extremely thin body
  • Extreme fasting
  • Relentless thoughts of losing weight
  • Extreme fear of gaining weight
  1. Bulimia nervosa: People with this disorder tend to do occasional binge eating and then later, they engage in force vomiting and excessive use of laxatives or diuretics.


  • The very low salt content in the body
  • Extreme dehydration
  • Occasional acid reflux
  • Swelling of the oral cavity
  • Inflammation of the throat
  • Bad teeth due to stomach acid
  1. Binge Eating disorder: An individual with this condition has an uncontrollable urge to consume large amounts of food. This eating disorder poses a high risk of being obese.


  • Eating despite being full
  • Frequent eating in huge amounts
  • Finishing food in a short time
  • Discreet eating
  • Feeling guilty for eating too much

What Triggers an Eating Disorder?

A trigger is a scenario or factor which drives the manifestation of the symptoms for the disorder. Here are some of the triggers which must be observed and avoided by people with an eating disorder.

  • Conversations about exercise
  • Talks about body shape and dress fittings
  • People talking about diet and calorie intake
  • Food labels with high calorie and fat level
  • Seeing a weighing scale

How To Manage Eating Disorder Triggers?

It is always a matter of choice whether one allows a trigger to dictate one’s decision of living a healthy life. There are several ways of managing triggers for eating disorders and it depends on the person to choose which one is most applicable.

  • Pause and take a deep breath: Once confronted with a trigger, do not readily react, instead pause and take a deep breath. Analyze the trigger and think of its negative consequences if permitted to dictate one’s action.
  • Distraction: Instead of focusing on the trigger, find a good distraction such as listening to music or writing something in a paper or journal.
  • Self-compassion: Showing love and worth for oneself is a strong tool to fight any disorder. When a person shows enough love for oneself, that person will do everything not to harm or ruin one’s life.

How Common is Substance Abuse and Alcoholism Among People with Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are greatly affecting a huge population in the United States. This behavioral disorder can be stand-alone or induced by substance abuse. Below are some important statistical data to show the relevance and impact of eating disorders and addiction in the country.

Eating Disorder and Addiction Statistics in the United States

  • Approximately 30 million people regardless of age and gender are suffering from an eating disorder
  • One person dies from eating disorder every 62 minutes
  • An estimated 50 percent of people with an eating disorder are also suffering from substance abuse and alcoholism
  • 35 percent of people with substance abuse and alcoholism have a dual diagnosis of an eating disorder
  • People with addiction are 11 times more prone to having an eating disorder
  • Around 14 percent of the women’s general population is suffering from both addiction and Anorexia nervosa. The same percentage of the general population is also suffering from addiction and bulimia.
  • Approximately 24.5 percent of people with Anorexia are also experiencing alcoholism
    o 17.7 percent – addiction to illicit substances
    o 27 percent – general substance abuse disorder
  • About 33.7 percent of individuals with bulimia are also having alcoholism issues
  • 21.4 percent of people with binge eating disorder also suffer from alcoholism

What Are the Treatments and Therapies to treat Eating Disorders?

Several treatment programs are available for medicating this behavioral disorder. However, one must carefully plan how to choose a treatment program to address both addiction and eating disorders.

Here are some strategies one can adapt to creating a treatment plan for this dual diagnosis.

  • Gather Important Team Members: This means one needs to find the right eating disorder specialist or dietician to help create a good treatment program. Aside from that, a person will also need the help of a therapist or psychologist as this condition affects the emotional aspect of the patient.
  • Psychological Therapies
    o Individual or group therapy: The patient undergoes conversation therapy in order to better understand the factors contributing to this condition and develop healthier ways of coping with it.
    o Family therapy: The patient’s family is involved in the therapy. The family is educated about eating disorders, its triggers, and ways they can boost the motivation and morale of the patient to gain a faster recovery.
    o Nutritional counseling: The referred dietician examines the physical and nutritional status of the patient. Based on the findings, a customized nutritional plan is crafted to meet the needs of the patient.