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Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions on their own, but when combined with a substance use issue, can become even more serious. Research suggests that nearly half of individuals with an eating disorder are abusing drugs and/or alcohol. To put that into context, those with an eating disorder are five times more likely to have a substance use issue in comparison with the general public.

There’s no certainty whether substance abuse triggers thoughts and behaviors related to eating disorders, or visa versa. Substance abuse can develop before, during, and even after treatment for an eating disorder. There are, however, certain concerns to keep in mind for those who have these co-occurring disorders:

  • There’s a Higher Correlation with Suicide: Suicide is the most common cause of death among individuals with eating disorders. Substance abuse is also a determinant in suicide-related deaths. Alcohol is involved in over a quarter of all suicides in the United States, and suicide is 120 times more prevalent among adult alcoholics than in the general population. If you are having suicidal thoughts or feelings, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) now and talk to someone who can help.
  • There’s a Need for Specialized Treatment: It’s important when seeking treatment for these combination of disorders that you find an eating disorder specialist that also specializes in assessing substance abuse. The same needs to be considered when researching a particular facility. Your eating disorder facility should be able to provide specialized treatment that accounts for your overall health and wellbeing, in this case, your eating disorder and addiction.
  • It’s Important to Seek Help as Early as you Can: Seeking help earlier on gives you the best chance for recovery. For those who may be just starting to notice a change in their own or a friend’s behaviors related to weight, food, or exercise, it’s a good idea to take a self-assessment at to see if your symptoms are consistent with an eating disorder. Even if your results come back negative, if you’re feeling consumed by your weight or body image, it’s a good idea to meet with a mental health professional.

Staying educated about eating disorders and being proactive when you or someone you care about is showing warning signs can make a huge difference. Help and recovery are possible.