How Are Eating Disorders and Drug Abuse Connected?

Posted in Drug Addiction

In an interview with National Public Radio in 2010 Ralph DiLeone, Yale University professor, said, “The motivation to take cocaine in the case of a drug addict is probably engaging similar circuits that the motivation to eat is in a hungry person.” After comparing studies on drug abuse and overeating, scientists have found that food – especially sweet and fatty foods – can affect the reward pathways in the brain and cause long-term neural damage.

Overeating and Addiction

Uri Shalev, a neuroscientist from Canada’s Concordia University, also found an interesting connection between food and drug abuse. His team studied rats that pressed levers to administer heroin. The rats typically pressed the lever when it no longer administered heroin, but when the scientists also took away the food, the rats went right back to hitting the heroin lever. All these studies suggest the following information:

  • Drugs and food might activate similar pleasure centers in the brain
  • Eating disorders (like drug abuse) can cause chemical changes in the brain circuitry
  • Overeaters can show addiction-like tendencies toward food
  • Behavioral overlaps are likely at play with both types of abuse

However, impulsive overeating is not the only eating disorder with drug-related connections. Anorexia and bulimia have equally potent overlap with drug abuse. Atlanta residents struggling with these issues will need professional help.

Drugs and Eating Disorders

Back in 2001, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University held the first major conference on substance abuse and eating disorders, which produced a 73-page report with some of the following findings:

  • Drugs are often used as appetite suppressants or to purge food
  • Amphetamines are commonly used to increase energy and burn calories
  • Anorexia and bulimia are the two disorders most commonly liked to drug abuse
  • Cocaine and inhalant use is four times more likely for girls with eating disorder symptoms

“For many young women, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are joined at the hip with smoking, binge drinking and illicit drug use,” said Joseph Califano, former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare about the findings. “This lethal link between substance abuse and eating disorders sends a signal… where you see the smoke of eating disorders, look for the fire of substance abuse and vice versa.” If an Atlanta resident has an eating disorder, he may also have a drug addiction.

Integrated Addiction Treatment

When the conference took place over a decade ago, the researchers noted the lack of addiction programs to treat both disorders at once. Today, that is no longer the case. There are now integrated programs that treat both conditions at once to maximize recovery. Integrated treatment includes these methods:

  • Medically supervised detox that minimizes withdrawals and maximizes comfort
  • Mental health treatment for any co-occurring mood disorders like anxiety and depression
  • Behavioral therapies that empower patients to resist unhealthy habits
  • Recognizing what situations trigger unhealthy drug and eating behaviors
  • Counseling to work through self-esteem and self-image issues
  • Peer group therapy to connect with and learn from other patients
  • Aftercare support to help with setbacks and struggles

Treating just one disorder can set an Atlanta resident up for a fall, but an integrated approach empowers freedom from both problems.

Atlanta Addiction Help

Do you live in Atlanta and struggle with an eating disorder and addiction? Our staff is available 24 hours a day to help, so call our toll-free helpline to learn about treatment options, rehab facilities and how an integrated approach might work for you. We can also check health insurance policies for treatment.