Eating Disorders

Treating eating disorders and substance abuse in tandem opens the door to a better, brighter, healthier future.

Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

According to a study by the National Eating Disorders Association, half of all people who have an eating disorder also have a substance abuse problem. That’s about five times the rate of the general population. Alcohol, heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, and tobacco are among the most common substances used by people with eating disorders.

People with these co-occurring disorders often are affected by a condition known as “drunkorexia” – an experience where someone regularly restricts their intake of food to offset the calories they take in from consuming alcohol. When they consume large amounts of alcohol with limited food intake, the risk of alcohol poisoning is very high. This high-risk behavior is most prevalent among college-aged young women.

Common Types of Eating Disorders

The three most common types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. While they share some common signs, there are singular traits for each one.

Anorexia Nervosa

People with this disorder usually think of themselves as being overweight, when in reality, they are likely to be underweight, sometimes to the point of having health risks because they are so thin. They attempt to control their weight by constantly monitoring their diet and restricting their intake of calories. Anorexia often begins during the teenage or young adult years, and it affects more women than men. 

Binge Eating

More than simply overdoing it on a favorite food or meal – this a serious condition characterized by repeated, uncontrollable overeating in a short period of time. People with this disorder don’t compensate for their food intake by purging or exercising, and as a result, they are often overweight. It is one of the most common eating disorders and affects people of all ages, although it most often occurs among teenagers and young adults. 


People with this disorder maintain a somewhat normal weight – they don’t become noticeably underweight or overweight. They often binge eat then purge to relieve the stomach pains that comes from their overeating. Much like anorexics who purge, behaviors include vomiting, fasting, laxatives, enemas, diuretics and excessive exercise. Bulimia often occurs during the teenage and young adult years, and it is more common among women than men. 

Signs of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight
  • Constant fear of gaining weight
  • Very restrictive eating habits
  • Constant, relentless efforts to be thin
  • Weighing considerably less than other people of the same height and age
  • An unrealistic body image; in denial about being underweight
  • Hoarding food

Binge Eating Disorder Signs

  • Eating at all times throughout the day
  • Eating large amounts of food rapidly, even when you’re not hungry
  • Feeling like you have no control during an eating binge
  • Feeling negative emotions such as shame or guilt before and after you binge eat
  • Not purging or exercising after you binge eat

Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

  • Frequent purging after binges
  • A fear of being overweight, even when weight is normal
  • Self-esteem issues centered on body weight and shape
  • Frequent eating binges with a feeling of no control
  • Unusual behavior while eating, such as constantly leaving the table to go to the restroom


This is when people eat things that are not actually food – soap, paper, chalk, dirt, laundry detergent. Pica can cause infections, poisoning, and other internal injuries. Most commonly, it affects children, pregnant women, and people who are mentally disabled. 

Night Eating Syndrome

This condition applies to people who eat heavily in the evening and overnight, often late at night and after waking from sleep. 


People with this disorder regurgitate food that has been swallowed, chew it a second time, then swallowing it again or spit it out. When children have this disorder, it can cause malnutrition and weight loss. Adults who suffer from rumination often restrict the amount of food they eat.

Restrictive Food Intake

This is similar to picky eating or dieting, but people with this disorder have go to extremes to avoid certain tastes, smells, textures and colors in their food. Previously known as “a feeding disorder of infancy and early childhood,” this actually can last into adulthood.

How Common Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders affect people of every age, gender, race, and background. In fact, more than 30 million Americans have experienced an eating disorder during their lifetime. It’s a serious issue that should not be underestimated or ignored. Eating disorders claim more than 10,000 lives every year, the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition.

Many factors have been cited as contributing to eating disorders, but the two most common are mental health conditions and a fixation on an individual’s body image. Depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and past trauma – such as childhood sexual abuse – have been known to play a role in the development of eating disorders. And the ever-present emphasis on being thin – from movies, television, advertising, and social media – can lead to weight-related eating disorders.

Studies have shown that genetics and personality traits also may contribute to this dangerous condition. People who are neurotic or impulsive have a high risk of developing the disease, resulting in unhealthy eating habits that grow more extreme and cause more physical damage over time.

Get Help for Eating Disorders

Our multidisciplinary team of addiction counselors is trained to provide substance use and eating disorder disorder treatment in tandem. Our evidence-based approach includes individualized care, psychotherapy, and specialized programs for eating disorders. If you or a loved one are displaying symptoms of an eating disorder don’t wait to get professional treatment.

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