Eating disorders and substance abuse


Eating disorders and substance abuse mostly occur side by side. Eating disorders also include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. As a result, this leads to emotional, physical, and social problems and the risk of death. 

If these two disorders befall together that causes complications for treatment. Let us dig in deep on these two disorders.

Substance abuse/Substance Use Disorders (SUD):

SUD contains many types of problems linked to the use of drugs. The DSM-5 recognizes 10 groups of drugs under this disorder. Drugs involved are alcohol, caffeine, marijuana, and opioids,…

SUD has parted into two groups:

  • Substance-use disorders – drug addiction
  • Substance-induced disorders – the physiological outcome of the use of substances of abuse/medicines

What Eating disorders and Substances abuse appear combined?

Research shows a strong connection between bulimia nervosa and substance abuse. Cases with bulimia nervosa and anorexia are more prone to substances. Patients with bulimia nervosa have a high percentage of alcohol consumption. 

People with eating disorders utilise many types of substances. Substances used prevalently by eating disorders patients are sedatives, marijuana, pills and also caffeine. Other substances are stimulants, hallucinogens, opiates, cocaine, phencyclidine, and inhalants.

People with eating disorders also handle and abuse legal substances like laxatives, diuretics, diet pills, thyroid hormones, nicotine, and artificial sweeteners.

Eating disorders

Eating is a necessity for all because our body relies on food to function. If a person changes their way of eating suddenly, they have an eating disorder. As a result, it challenges the functioning of the body.

A variety of eating disorder types are there, some named by the Eating Disorder Foundation include:

  • Anorexia: Starving themselves as they fear gaining weight.                                               Patients with anorexia don’t eat regular meals on a regular schedule. Rather, they’ll skip meals.  They might eat only foods they consider to be low in calories like popcorn, celery, or rice cakes.
  • Bulimia: People with such eating disorder use vomiting as a means to restrict weight gain.                        They use vomiting, laxatives (medicine that can treat constipation), to assure that the calories in food don’t make their way upon their body.
  • Binge eating: Unlimited eating followed by uncontrolled vomiting.                                              People with this eat in a daze, stopping only when they can’t eat more. As a result, they overheat and force themselves to vomit in order to lessen the pain.
  • Compulsive eating: Excessive eating is the main characteristic.                               They eat till they are way too full, but they might not vomit. So, obesity is a prevalent result of this disorder.

These disorders cause physical & also mental pain. Whereas, people don’t choose to have this condition. Even experts aren’t certain why eating disorders develop. As others eat regularly without getting eating disorders.

Areas of drug misuse- Eating disorders and substance abuse

People with eating disorders frequently feel sad & defeated. So drug use may seem pleasing to them. Drugs might seem like the only solution because it gives temporary relief. Nothing else can help boost their mood.

Drugs also attract people with eating disorders. For example, research hints that few drugs help to subdue the appetite. This can help with anorexia even if it’s just a little bit. These people are uncontrollably hungry. They’ll go to any lengths to eat. If drugs make hunger fade, they seem useful to someone with anorexia.

Substance abuse disorders are easily managed if they have people with eating disorder issues. For example, people who misuse alcohol drink more of the substance at once. So, they get drunk sooner than they want. Bulimia could aid in handling this with self-vomiting techniques. If a person binges alcohol they’ll vomit and keep drinking.

General Care 

Living with an eating disorder isn’t simple. People with disorders are forced to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. So, this makes it clear that their disorders cause great suffering. It’s to the point where they’re willing to do anything to get better.

Patients with eating disorders can get better with the correct help. Correct therapy helps them understand the significance of good nutrition, for instance. This will help them eat knowingly.

Those who fall into cravings have a hard time recovering hence they may find it hard to:

  • Concentrate during therapy sessions
  • Do recovery-related homework
  • Eat correctly
  • Attend support group meetings

Some drugs also erase willpower. This makes people feel like getting back to the disorder. It might happen even if they show steady recovery.

Experts suggest co-occurring therapies as eating disorders & addiction are related.  Sadly, this kind of extensive care isn’t readily available.

Book – Psychotherapy for the Treatment of Substance Abuse

Dr. Marc Galanter and Dr. Herbert Kleber propose Psychotherapy for the Treatment of Substance Abuse, to be of practical use for clinicians and to newbies in the field of substance abuse intervention. This guidebook has:

  • Displays the general psychotherapeutic interventions for opioid and alcohol-related substance abuse disorders.
  • Chapters are written by leading experts
  • Valuable insight into the substance abuse disorders that affect over 20% of the U.S. population
  • Diagnostic tools like patient assessment & placement criteria test to identify recent drug use.
  • Confirms that the most common interventions for virtually all substance abuse disorders are psychotherapy and behavioral approaches.

Evaluation and Treatment of disorders in eating and substance abuse

Due to comorbidity (presence of additional conditions) between eating disorders and substance use disorders. If a person is being treated for one condition, they should be checked for other conditions. Professionals who detect one may not be trained to detect and the other. Eating disorders and SUDs are separate disorders that have been treated individually.

Substance Use Disorder Treatment

It is planned to help control and refrain from substances. Patients are motivated to join in self-help programs. This might prevent the relapse of SUG.

Eating Disorder Treatment

This treatment requires severe psychological intervention, dietary help, and medical supervision. The goals include reducing overcontrol, eliminate dieting and food restriction. This also helps to bring eating patterns back to normal. Self-help programs are not recognized as a must.

Co-Treatment (Treatment for Substance abuse and eating disorders)

Eating disorders and substance abuse are seldom treated together. Substance abuse programs don’t allow patients with eating disorders. Similarly, eating disorder treatment programs exclude patients with SUD.

As a result, treatments given are in a parallel way. Combined treatments programs are lacking. This causes an increase in time and expense.


If you see someone you love struggling with an eating disorder/substance abuse, seek professional help. Early diagnosis aids with an easier recovery. Eat right and stay healthy.


Subin Joshua
Author: Hi there, my name is Subin Joshua, and I am a Medical student. I grew up in a family of teachers and know that being a social worker is my calling. My passion for helping others has been evident in my involvement in helping the poor and needy for the last three years. Through those experiences, I have learned to interact with a diverse group of people, which has increased my ability to relate to others.