Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders: Eating Disorder and Substance Abuse

Many times, individuals find themselves struggling with addiction. Although this is difficult on its own, it is even worse battling a mental disorder at the same time. This is called a dual diagnosis. In order to deliver help, certain facilities provide dual diagnosis treatment to individuals who suffer from mental health disorders and addiction. This includes those who are living with eating disorders and substance abuse.

At Harmony Place in California, we understand the challenges that a dual diagnosis brings. With this in mind, we offer valuable treatments for eating disorders and addiction in a safe and comfortable Woodland Hills environment.

What are Eating Disorders?

An eating disorder is a behavioral condition that causes persistent and extreme disturbances in a person’s eating behavior. In other words, it brings distress to the individual’s thoughts and emotions. In turn, these affect a person’s physical health, social function, and psychological well-being.

What is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is defined as the long-term use of a drug for mood-altering purposes. To clarify, this includes alcohol as well. Substance misuse occurs when drugs or alcohol cause health issues, impaired control, or failure to meet normal responsibilities. For instance, when a person drinks to the point of passing out and missing work, a problem exists. Also, if a person becomes dependent on cocaine to get through the day, there is a problem.

The Connection Between Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

Unfortunately, substance misuse disorders and eating disorders frequently occur together. Since mental health issues can trigger these types of conditions, people suffering from eating disorders and substance abuse are likely to be challenged with mental illness as well. However, an individual with an eating disorder may become addicted to drugs to lower his or her appetite.


When a person tries to recover from an eating disorder, he or she is likely to develop an addiction. This happens as a result of turning to alcohol or drug use in order to drown out negative emotions. Likewise, individuals recovering from substance abuse may develop eating disorders to cover psychological experiences.

Similarities Between Eating Disorders and Addiction

Frequently, people consider eating disorders and drug addiction as two separate conditions. However, anyone who suffers from both understands how the two issues are connected. Unfortunately, many people who suffer from eating disorders also suffer from substance use disorders. But, often, it can be difficult to figure out if a person is struggling with an eating disorder, addiction, or both. In fact, both of these conditions bring similar symptoms.

  • Increased intensity over time
  • Inability to stop destructive behavior
  • Cravings, preoccupations, and ritualistic behavior
  • Continuing substance use despite negative consequences

Research shows that there is a genetic link to both of these conditions. However, there may be environmental triggers or emotional trauma that lead to these problems as well. Since both are chronic diseases, there are high relapse rates. Therefore, long-term therapy is advised.

eating disorders and substance abuseDifferent Types of Eating Disorders

There are several types of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. It is important to become familiar with some of the most common eating disorders. On the whole, they may cause both mental pain and physical symptoms.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is an eating disorder that makes people restrict their eating to the point of negative effects on their health. In other words, an individual starves himself or herself. In fact, this disorder causes the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric condition. Harmful behavior is driven by the extreme fear of gaining weight. Consequently, even a person who is extremely thin feels as though he or she is overweight.


Bulimia is a condition where a person alternates binging and purging. Binge eating involves consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time. In essence, a person loses control. Another key point is that the person becomes sensitive and embarrassed about his or her behavior.


After binging, people who suffer from bulimia will go through a period of purging. They may force themselves to vomit or they may begin fasting or exercising excessively. Although a person may appear at an average weight, dangerous health problems may result, including esophageal tears, gastric ruptures, and cardiac arrhythmias.

Binge Eating Disorder

Similarly, individuals with binge eating disorders experience times of over-indulging. However, they do not use compensational behavior to eliminate the food. For instance, a person with bulimia may misuse laxatives or induce vomiting. This does not occur with binge eating. Comparatively, this disorder can cause serious health problems, including hypertension, obesity, and cardiovascular issues.

The Role of Drugs and Alcohol in Eating Disorders

Often, people with eating disorders feel upset or lost. For this reason, drugs and alcohol become appealing. They bring a bit of relief and a boost in mood. Also, certain drugs bring benefits to people who have eating disorders. For instance, certain narcotics suppress the appetite, which is helpful to people with anorexia. When drugs dampen the feelings of hunger, they become useful tools for the disorder.

When eating disorders are linked to anxiety, drugs or alcohol become a crutch. For example, individuals who worry about eating food find that consuming alcohol brings relaxation and makes it easier to finish a meal.

Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

Again, substance misuse disorders commonly co-occur with mental illnesses like eating disorders. Often, the signs and symptoms of each one are quite similar.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

  • Drinking in secret
  • Being unable to stop drinking
  • Hiding alcohol in strange places
  • Losing interest in normal activities
  • Blacking out or not remembering certain periods of time
  • Cravings to drink and irritability when alcohol is not available
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms like nausea or shaking when not drinking

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Misuse

  • Secrecy
  • Personality changes
  • Poor grooming habits
  • Loss of control over usage
  • Unexplained mood changes
  • Drugs are used to avoid negative feelings
  • Changes in sleep patterns and eating patterns
  • Tremors, slurred speech, and financial problems

Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

  • Insomnia
  • Food rituals
  • Dental problems
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Refusing to eat certain foods
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Preoccupation with food and dieting
  • Extreme concern with body size
  • Fine hair all over the body
  • Impaired immune system
  • Regularly skipping meals
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Dry skin, hair, and nails
  • Extreme mood swings

Receiving Help for Co-Occurring Disorders

When a person seeks help for substance misuse and an eating disorder, it is essential to be screened for both behavioral conditions and mental illnesses. Since these two types of disorders are closely related, it is essential to have a dual diagnosis revealed. Indeed, this ensures that a person will receive the best treatment for long-term health.

Often, individuals who suffer from eating disorders benefit from prescription antidepressants. Also, these types of drugs can help manage anxiety or depression.

It is vital to understand the risks that are associated with co-occurring disorders. Treatment staff can monitor patients for symptoms of each condition. For instance, an individual who is receiving treatment for alcohol addiction can be watched for certain eating disorders as well.

Treatment for Eating Disorders and Addiction

Unfortunately, there is a strong connection between drug and alcohol abuse and eating disorders. For this reason, dual diagnosis treatment facilities are essential. For successful long-term recovery, a person must receive individualized treatment for his or her dual diagnosis.

When these conditions are treated separately, one disorder may seem treated, but the other creeps back up. A patient bounces from one treatment center to another. He or she believes that progress is made. However, it perpetuates an endless cycle of relapse.

The Importance of Integrated Care for Dual Diagnosis

Studies show that rehab programs for a patient with a dual diagnosis are most effective when they take an integrated treatment approach. In other words, there are a number of therapeutic options that can be combined for a successful recovery.

Individual Therapy

This type of therapy builds motivation and teaches positive reactions to triggers. It is a collaborative approach that reinforces a patient’s self-worth.

Peer Support Groups

A person with a dual diagnosis often withdraws from social gatherings. Therefore, peer support is a key part of recovery. In fact, it shows patients that their problems are not unique and that it is helpful to lean on others for support.

Family Counseling

During addiction, family relationships often become strained. It is vital for families to learn ways to support and to communicate with a loved one who is battling a dual diagnosis. In the end, it provides healing for both parties.

Holistic Therapy

Altogether, many treatment centers have veered from only offering conventional office therapy. In fact, it has become known that alternative therapies, including acupuncture, massage, equine therapy, and yoga, can contribute to a person’s long-term recovery.

Receive Treatment for Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse at Harmony Place

Those who are battling eating disorders and addiction require care from a facility that treats dual diagnosis symptoms. Harmony Place has a caring staff that is ready to address all patients’ challenges. Our trained and experienced team develops individualized recovery plans for each person. We offer a wide variety of therapies that encourage sobriety and that encourage positive mental health in the long term. For more information, contact us today.    

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