Getting to the Bottom of Things
One of the most difficult conditions, or more accurately, complex of conditions, for mental health professionals to treat is a dual diagnosis. For those who don’t know, dual diagnosis is a pair of co-occurring conditions. This is usually some type of addiction along with a mental health disorder. For example, a therapist might determine an alcoholic has depression. Similarly, a meth addict might also suffer from bipolar disorder. The nature of these diseases and the way in which they feed off of each other make them especially challenging to treat. One of the most common dual diagnosis combinations is an eating disorder along with some type of substance abuse. It is estimated that 50% of people with eating disorders also have some type of substance abuse issue. By the same token, 35% of people who struggle with substance abuse also have some type of issue with food.
Stimulants and Eating Disorders
One of the most common substance abuse problems that occur with eating disorders are issues with stimulants. Stimulants are highly addictive drugs that include not only illicit substances such as methamphetamine and cocaine but also prescription medication like Adderall and Vyvanse. One of the side effects of stimulants is the suppression of appetite. This makes the drug attractive to those whose primary diagnosis is some type of restrictive eating disorder. However, because they are so addictive and so powerful, over time stimulants will change a person’s relationship with food. This means that those whose primary diagnosis is substance abuse can eventually develop an eating disorder, much in the same way a stimulant addict will begin to “fear” sleep.
Alcohol Abuse and ED
Stimulants are not the only class of drug that has a relationship with eating disorders. The origins of both eating disorders and substance abuse issues often stem from underlying stress or trauma. The unhealthy relationship with food or the use of a substance is essentially a type of coping mechanism. Because alcohol is the most widely abused drug in the United States, and because half of those with eating disorders also abuse some type of drug, it follows that alcohol abuse is also one of the most common issues to co-occur with eating disorders. This sometimes occurs due to “drunkorexia,” a slang term describing the restriction of food in order to consume more alcohol, either to control weight or promote intoxication. Studies estimate that 30% of college women have restricted calories in order to drink more, with 67% of that number doing so in order to prevent weight gain.
Eating Disorders, Substance Abuse, and Other Mental Health Issues
Because these disorders are often the result of some type of unresolved stress, those who suffer from an eating disorder and substance abuse dual diagnosis also struggle with other mental health issues. Both groups have high rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This extends to those with a dual diagnosis. Self-mutilation, closely related to impulse control disorder, is also prevalent. Research shows that approximately 30-40% of people who suffer from an eating disorder also engage in some type of self-harm. Finally, suicide is also common in both groups. For example, one study showed that one in five anorexia-related deaths were the result of suicide, while another revealed that 20% of all non-traffic alcohol-related deaths were suicides.
A Holistic Approach
These are heartbreaking numbers, but fortunately science and medicine are beginning to catch up. Previously, each condition would be treated either separately or in sequence. This effectively ignores the relationship between the two. However, more and more mental health professionals are beginning to realize the benefits of a holistic approach to treatment. If you are struggling with eating and substance abuse disorders, please consider giving Ocean Recovery a call. We are located in Newport Beach, California and specialize in a holistic approach to dual diagnosis treatment. Our admission specialists are ready to help you begin your new life today.