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Eating Disorders and Addiction Co-Occurring Treatment

Freedom From Addiction is one of Canada's most innovative recovery homes, best known for providing an individualized and holistic approach to addiction treatment. Our team of qualified healthcare professionals and addiction specialists combine their knowledge and expertise to provide comprehensive treatment plans for co-occurring drug/alcohol addiction and eating disorders. 

How Eating Disorders Affect Addiction 

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that require treatment from medical and psychological experts. Approximately 1 million Canadians are diagnosed with eating disorders, a mental health disorder that can affect anyone regardless of age, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic identity, or socio-economic background. Eating disorders are serious mental health concerns that are characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviours, combined with distressing emotions and thoughts. Eating disorders can debilitate physical, psychological, and social functioning — and while the exact causes of eating disorders remain unknown, many doctors believe that a combination of genetic, physical, social, and psychological factors contribute to their development.

Eating disorders and addiction are both behavioural disorders that involve compulsive actions. Some forms of eating disorders, such as binge eating, possess similar behavioural patterns with substance abuse. Other types of eating disorders involve restricting calorie intake, which can involve abusing substances like stimulants. 

According to studies, individuals with binge eating disorders talk about food in the same manner and behaviour as individuals with substance abuse problems when they talk about abusing drugs. In North America, roughly one-third and one-quarter of individuals suffering from bulimia and binge-eating disorder, respectively, are more likely to have a drug or alcohol problem at some point in their lives. 

Types of Eating Disorders

How eating disorders and addiction present themselves can look different on different people. Eating disorders start with an obsession with food, body shape, or weight. In some severe cases, eating disorders can cause serious health issues and may even result in death, if left untreated. 

Eating disorders can be present in forms such as overeating, undereating, and purging. There are three major types of eating disorders, each carrying its own unique set of symptoms. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), signs and symptoms of eating disorders can begin before a person starts to look unhealthy. This suggests that weight and the overall appearance should “never be the only consideration.”

Let’s look at the major types of eating disorders and their unique set of symptoms:

Anorexia Nervosa 

The most common type of eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, oftentimes develops during adolescence or young adulthood, affecting more women than men. People with anorexia can have distorted images of their physical appearance and see themselves as overweight, even if they are underweight to a concerning point. This is known as body dysmorphic disorder

Some individuals who have anorexia nervosa tend to use stimulants to decrease appetite, thus increasing their risk of developing substance abuse problems. 

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa:

  • Constant weight monitoring
  • Skipping meals
  • Severe calorie restriction including calorie counting
  • Wearing loose clothing to hide form
  • Excessive exercising
  • Constant comments about being “fat”
  • Avoidance to eat with others

Bulimia Nervosa 

Individuals with bulimia tend to consume large amounts of food within a specific period of time, continuing to eat until they become too full. During episodes of binge eating, they lose control of how much they eat. Commonly, it happens with foods that they would normally avoid, such as carbs or sugar. They would then participate in purging behaviours, such as induced vomiting, in order to compensate for their recent calorie intake. 

According to Psychiatry Today, a higher rate of substance abuse happens in women who possess bulimic behaviours, such as bingeing and purging. Alcohol and drug use may be a means to control emotional disturbances and distressing thoughts about weight. Eating disorders and addiction are strongly connected in the sense that women who are affected by bulimia nervosa abuse an “unusually” wide range of substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs, and non-psychoactive substances such as laxatives/diuretics.

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Evidence of purging (trips to the bathroom after meals, sounds, and smell of vomiting)
  • Evidence of binge eating (empty wrappers of food, the disappearance of a large amount of food in a short amount of time)
  • Complaining about “being fat”
  • Excessive exercising
  • Scarred knuckles from repeated vomiting
  • Displaying common purging behaviours, such as vomiting, fasting, taking laxatives and diuretic

Binge Eating 

Individuals struggling with binge eating disorders possess similar symptoms to those of bulimia or the binge eating subtype of anorexia nervosa. These individuals tend to consume large amounts of food in a short period of time, which triggers the overwhelming feeling of lack of control over their food intake. Different from bulimia nervosa, they do not restrict calorie consumption or engage in purging behaviours. Individuals who have binge eating issues are often overweight, increasing their risk of developing major health issues such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

According to a study, nearly 25% of individuals with binge eating disorder also suffer, or have suffered from, substance misuse at some point in their lives. 

Symptoms of Binge Eating:

  • Storing large amounts of food in secretive places, or hiding food
  • The disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time
  • Constantly dieting without showing weight loss

Eating Disorders and Addiction in Concurrent Disorders 

In 2003, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reported that 50% of individuals diagnosed with eating disorders abused alcohol and other illicit substances at some point in their lives. In the same report, it was stated that 50% of individuals who abused substances also had one or two types of co-occurring eating disorders. Eating disorders and co-occurring with addiction issues are extremely prevalent, as drug use is sought to suppress appetite and weight loss, while alcohol is often consumed in a bingeful manner along with food. Eating disorders and addiction can cause complex emotional, social, and physical problems, along with an increased risk of fatality. When eating disorders and addiction happen at the same time, it can present challenges for the treatment plan. 

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and addiction is the first step towards treatment. While eating disorders and addiction are considered serious issues, these are highly treatable with the guidance of trained experts. With the support of a skilled treatment team, most individuals suffering from eating disorders and addiction can fully adapt to having healthy eating habits.

The Importance of Treating Eating Disorders During Addiction Recovery 

Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the world’s population. It is crucial that patients struggling with addiction and a co-occurring eating disorder be treated with a holistic approach that addresses both conditions simultaneously. Here are some of the most compelling reasons why:

  • At least 50% of individuals suffering from eating disorders experience substance abuse during their recovery period.
  • About 26% of individuals with eating disorders develop severe depression, with a higher risk of attempting suicide.
  • 10,200 deaths occur each year in relation to eating disorders and addiction, which is roughly equivalent to one death every 52 minutes.
  • Eating disorders and addiction, particularly opioid addiction, are the two main causes of fatalities related to mental illnesses.

How Eating Disorders and Addiction Are Treated 

Eating disorders are serious mental health concerns that require an intensive, integrated treatment approach. There are certain risk factors involved, which is why treatment teams need to pursue a holistic approach, intertwined with the strong support of family and peers. It is common for patients who are being treated for addiction to experience an increase in eating disorder symptoms. Similarly, individuals taking part in treatment for an eating disorder may have an increased yearning for substance abuse when attempting to control or stabilize their eating patterns. Unfortunately, the disinhibiting effects of illicit substances can increase the likelihood of unhealthy eating habits.

Treatment for eating disorders and addiction involves medical and psychological care with special emphasis on family therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), individual talk therapy, and a personalized fitness program in conjunction with nutritional counselling. These different forms of interventions address the patient’s relationship with food, as well as the underlying emotional causes of the eating disorder. In order to make progress, patients with eating disorders and addiction must be able to connect to their emotions and maintain awareness of the identified triggers for eating habits. 

At Freedom From Addiction, we recognize that there is no standalone approach to treating eating disorders, let alone concurrent cases of eating disorders and addiction. Instead of relying on drug detox alone, we have found more success in addressing the root cause of addiction, taking evidence-based approaches, and creating an individualized treatment plan based on each client's unique circumstances.

Our concurrent disorder treatment for eating disorder and addiction includes:

Medical Detox 

Patients with overlapping disorders of eating disorders and addiction have often spent years using drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate. Quitting on their own at home may not be safe due to the extreme withdrawal symptoms during the detoxification process, combined with the resulting emotional instability that they experience. Freedom From Addiction offers safe, effective, and medically guided drug detox programs that help the body flush out trace amounts of alcohol and drugs while providing necessary support for the patient to manage the withdrawal symptoms as comfortably as possible.

Drug Addiction Treatment 

We offer different types of drug addiction treatment programs tailored to fit the client's personal needs. We have residential treatment, in-house or hospitalization, outpatient programs, and behavioural counselling. We also have an impressive team of medical professionals and addiction specialists who are qualified to treat all types of addiction to illicit drugs, including:

Alcohol Addiction Treatment  

Individuals with eating disorders are at significant risk of developing alcohol use disorder or alcoholism. For patients with a concurrent eating disorder and substance use disorder, our alcohol rehab and alcohol addiction treatment services are designed to provide support at every step of the way. These include:

  • Helping families and friends stage interventions
  • Providing detoxification and psychosocial support designed to address drinking problems or use of illicit substances
  • Conducting individual and group counselling for maintaining abstinence and relapse prevention
  • Giving family therapy and emotional support for loved ones who may have been hurt or want to be involved in the healing process.

Mental Health Treatment  

The core of our concurrent disorder treatment at Freedom From Addiction is our mental health treatment program. It effectively helps pinpoint potential risk factors, past trauma, and potential triggers that may have resulted in the clients' eating disorders and addiction. But more importantly, they are also designed to teach them how to unlearn negative thinking patterns, emotions, and unhealthy coping mechanisms by replacing them with positive behaviours.

Our mental health treatment involves integrative therapies, such as:

Our Integrated Eating Disorders and Addiction Treatment Approach 

Although there’s now an increased awareness in the world of addiction recovery about the widespread prevalence of co-occurring disorders involving substance use and mental health illnesses, there’s still a limited number of drug rehabs that offer concurrent disorder treatments. Individuals who have a concurrent diagnosis for eating disorders and addiction are left with no choice but to complete their addiction program before getting access to properly executed eating disorders treatment plans. Without an available therapy for the concurrent disorder, the least these drug rehabs can do is provide a referral for separate treatment for eating disorders and addiction, overlooking the possibility of relapse, or worse, suicide.

Freedom From Addiction is an addiction recovery home-based in Aurora, Ontario. Our concurrent disorder treatment programs are backed by years of extensive review of scientific literature regarding addiction and co-occurring disorders. We have a team of experts that implement evidence-based concurring disorder treatment plans and a continuing care program to provide clients with all the support they need. 

If you or a loved one is suffering from eating disorders and addiction, we are here to help you. Start a new life of healing and happiness. Contact Freedom From Addiction today.

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