Disorders related to eating

Addiction is recognized as a chronic, relapsing condition that affects brain function and behavior, but it remains treatable. Studies have indicated that nearly half of individuals with eating disorders also struggle with substance abuse (Fuchs, Geronooz, Cleinge & Mezzena, 2013). This co-occurrence impacts both men and women, correlating with higher mortality rates due to medical complications and suicide. While a person with an eating disorder and someone with an addiction might appear physically distinct—one focusing on body image, the other on sensory experiences—deep analysis reveals common underlying issues and similar consequences.

Etiology Both substance abuse and eating disorders are influenced by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Genetics significantly contribute to addiction vulnerability through environmental impacts on gene expression and functioning. Shared neurotransmitters are thought to play roles in both eating and substance use disorders. Often, individuals experience both conditions simultaneously due to shared risk factors, including a history of trauma such as sexual assault, emotional abuse, the death of a loved one, or sudden life changes, using disordered eating and substance use as temporary relief (DiLeone, Taylor & Picciotto, 2012).

Manifestation The onset of these conditions can vary. Substance abuse may precede, coincide with, or follow the development of an eating disorder. For some, substance abuse suppresses appetite, leading to weight loss and triggering an eating disorder. For others, both issues serve as maladaptive coping mechanisms. These strategies are ultimately ineffective, leaving emotional problems unresolved and coping skills undeveloped (DiLeone, Taylor & Picciotto, 2012).

Consequences Eating disorders inflict both physical and mental pain, presenting significant health challenges. The exact reasons why some develop these disorders while others do not remain unclear. Perfectionist tendencies and a refusal to accept bodily imperfections often characterize those with eating disorders. These thoughts extend to other life areas, affecting relationships, work, and education. Conversely, drug abuse can suppress appetite, exacerbate anxiety, and contribute to significant weight loss, especially with restrictive diets (Fuchs, Geronooz, Cleinge & Mezzena, 2013).

Treatment Early intervention is crucial and should be managed by specialists experienced in both eating disorders and substance abuse. Effective treatment involves education on good nutrition and establishing healthier eating habits. Individuals with severe addictions often struggle to recover without comprehensive support. Drug addiction impacts brain function, complicating recovery without proper treatment.

Recovery Both disorders are treatable, and recovery is possible with intensive treatment plans. Individuals learn to manage their eating habits and addiction. Some medications can diminish cravings and regain control, though relapse remains a risk, necessitating ongoing therapy. Co-occurring therapies are vital for individuals to address both eating disorders and addiction simultaneously (Fuchs, Geronooz, Cleinge & Mezzena, 2013).


  • DiLeone, R. J., Taylor, J. R., & Picciotto, M. R. (2012). The drive to eat: comparisons and distinctions between mechanisms of food reward and drug addiction. Nature neuroscience, 15(10), 1330-1335.
  • Fuchs, S., Geronooz, I., Cleinge, L., & Mezzena, K. (2013). Eating disorders and drug addiction: Revue medicale de Liege, 68(5-6), 326-330.
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