Dual Diagnosis, Addiction and Eating Disorders: Self Destructive Behavior

Dual Diagnosis and Eating Disorders

Lately there has been a growing body of evidence to support the similarities between eating disorders and addictive conditions like drug addiction and alcoholism. The American Society of Addiction Medicine now holds a wider definition of addiction to include not just drugs and alcohol, but also “process” addictions like food. This is because all of these substances have a very similar effect on the brain.

Natural stimulants like taking care of our bodies, healthy amounts of exercise, being praised or being in love trigger special reward centers in our brain, making us feel good. These reward centers can also be activated through artificial means like drug use, alcohol, and food abuse such as binging, purging or even starving.

Chemical addiction and eating disorders arise from many of the same sources and display some of the same characteristics. Both conditions:

  • Include common risk factors: family history, imbalances in brain chemistry, stress or childhood trauma
  • Appear during stressful life transitions like the loss of a parent, a divorce or puberty
  • Arise from low self-esteem, depression or anxiety
  • Involve a pattern of compulsive behaviors
  • Involve a preoccupation with a substance or activity
  • Are chronic conditions that produce severe or potentially fatal side effects

Self-Destructive Patterns of Addiction and Eating Disorders

When the reward center of the brain is stimulated inappropriately, specifically through drugs, alcohol, or food abuse, it stops functioning the way it was intended to. These stimulants create a false sense of temporary happiness or relief with damaging consequences. An individual who struggles with an addiction or eating disorder may have a personality type that is prone to impulsivity, extremes and high anxiety and this creates a need for greater amounts of stimulation in order to feel well. Relief created by unhealthy stimulation only creates a greater risk for dependency and addiction forming habits. Despite severe medical complications, it is difficult for individuals struggling with addictions to give up their addiction, as in the case of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, alcoholism or substance abuse.

Treatment of Eating Disorders and Alcoholism/Substance Abuse

Since the addictive nature of eating disorders and alcoholism/addiction is similar, and the underlying issues pertaining to both conditions may overlap, it is crucial to treat eating disorders and addiction simultaneously in the recovery process. At The Meadows Ranch, our comprehensive treatment team addresses the various needs of women and girls with co-occurring disorders through medical, nutritional and psychotherapy treatments. Our trauma-focused and brain-based approach helps us find and treat the root cause of the patient’s addictions and behavioral disorders.

At The Meadows Ranch, we understand the seriousness of dual diagnosis. In a safe and nurturing community composed of their peers, people are guided on their journey of recovery by examining the underlying causes of their eating disorder and co-occurring disorders. The goal is for these individuals to gain the courage to face difficult issues including grief and loss; heal from emotional trauma; and become accountable for their own feelings, behaviors, and recovery. 

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