The Relationship Between The Two, And How to Treat Both
At Active Recovery Care, we are both an addictionologist, and a registered dietitian able to treat both substance use and eating disorders concurrently (at the same time). Many patients suffering from opioid use disorders, alcohol abuse, and addiction tend to have dietary issues as well.
Many substance users may be suffering from malnutrition due to the drug and alcohol use and mental health symptoms associated with the substances. It is also common for cases of eating disorders to be active in those abusing alcohol and drugs.
Is There a Link Between Addiction and Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are described by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) as “…disturbed eating patterns and dysfunctional attitudes toward food, eating, and body shape.” Disturbed eating patterns and dysfunctional attitudes towards food are very common in alcohol and drug users and range from mild to extreme in nature.
An eating disorder may develop out of the substance abuse, or vice-versa; the substance abuse may develop from untreated, worsening eating disorders. The average age for the onset of eating disorders in between the ages of 8 – 21 years old. These years also correspond with the average ages that adolescents begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
Body Image and Substance Abuse
The ages of 8-21 are when the body changes rapidly, both in chemistry and size and shape. During this time of change, individuals can develop dysfunctional attitudes toward their own size and shape. This is characteristic of an eating disorder developing in the mind, regardless of whether they are actively trying to change their size and shape (through starvation, purging, and other eating disorder actions).
Mental health conditions can begin or be worsened by alcohol abuse and drug use. Dysfunctional views, psychosis, and worsening overall mental health can be expected in moderate to heavy use of substances. Worsening self esteem issues and deteriorating health amplify the already worsening problem.
Anorexia and Drug & Alcohol Use
Anorexia means “Lack of Appetite”, but this is a misnomer — many of those suffering from anorexia DO have an appetite, and feel hungry. They are simply restricting their food intake, regardless of their hunger. The reasons they are restricting their food intake can range greatly.
Some alcoholics and alcohol abusers do consciously eat less so that the alcohol has a stronger effect on them. Others may restrict their food intake because it gets in the way if their drinking, and others may simply eat less because they cannot afford it or spend their available money on alcohol instead. Likewise, this happens with drug abuse.
Methamphetamine and Eating Disorders
Methamphetamine is often closely associated with eating disorders, malnutrition, thin figure, and deteriorating appearance. The “faces of meth” – mugshots showing the worsening physical appearance of methamphetamine users over the years — are popular on the internet, and show the most extreme effects of the drug.
Methamphetamine, speed, amphetamines, uppers, and other stimulants (including nicotine, Adderall, and other prescription stimulants), suppress appetite. Long-term stimulant users tend to have long-term nutritional issues, even after becoming sober.
The Importance of Eating Disorder Treatment in Addiction Recovery
If you are diagnosed with an eating disorder in recovery — or if your addictionologist / substance abuse treatment provider has identified your risk as-such — you will likely be recommended treatment in an eating disorder treatment program. This is an important step in recovery and every recovering substance user can benefit from the eating disorder treatment program’s process.
Again, we want to stress that every substance and alcohol abuser is suffering from malnutrition and eating disorders to some degree. Addiction and recovery from addiction will both cause changes to the body’s chemistry, and nutrient absorption and appetite will be the most noticeable symptoms of this.
Addiction Treatment and Eating Disorder Specialists Explain Appetite and Addiction
Appetite is more tied to addiction that we would like to admit. How do you know when you have had enough wine? Are you relying on your “appetite for wine” to tell you when you have been properly sated?
Many famous people with strong addictive personalities have been described as having “large appetites” — for food, drink, drugs, sex, everything one could consume…
Addicts often describe their addiction as constantly trying to fill a hole that can’t be filled. Alcoholics admit that they cannot stop drinking once they have started, and have no sense of “limit.” Binge drinkers cannot usually give an answer for how many beers or drinks are “enough” — because there aren’t enough drinks in the world to ever be enough. An alcoholic’s appetite for alcohol comes back several times per day, just like a “proper” person craves food several times per day.
Nutrition in Addiction Recovery
Dr Melissa Ferrell is both an addiction and nutrition specialist at Active Recovery Care, where we treat addiction and nutritional issues in tandem. We recognize the importance of proper nutrition in recovery and can help our patients to realize the full potential of their recovery.