What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Eating disorders, like all mental health issues, need specific, targeted treatment in order for recovery to be successful. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and other EDs are very different diagnoses from other mental health issues like depression or anxiety, so successful treatment will come from clinical staff specifically trained to treat eating disorders.

However, eating disorders (EDs) often occur in tandem with other mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. An eating disorder may be brought on or exacerbated by trauma, or it may cause depression. Substances like drugs or alcohol may play a role in an eating disorder, or they may be used to numb pain or sadness caused by the disorder. Whether co-occurring disorders precede or are precipitated by eating disorders, it’s just as necessary to address these issues as to address the eating disorder itself.

It’s important, therefore, that targeted eating disorder treatment also seeks to uncover and treat any other disorders that are happening alongside the ED. Once dually diagnosed, these different disorders can be addressed concurrently rather than looking at only one issue at the exclusion of others that may be contributing to the problem or hindering recovery. This approach is referred to as co-occurring treatment.

What Is Co-Occurring Treatment?

Co-occurring or dual diagnosis treatment addresses any combination of more than one mental health disorder and/or addiction. Although co-occurring disorders are often a combination of mental health and substance abuse issues, particularly in the case of eating disorders, a diagnosis may include a combination of mental health issues.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, eating disorders often co-occur with the following disorders:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Drug abuse
  • Alcohol abuse

Psychology Today recommends that any co-occurring disorder be treated with therapy that coordinates interventions for various disorders, rather than treating diagnoses separately. This integrated approach often combines targeted behavioral therapy for all diagnoses with medication, when necessary. A wholistic approach to recovery will ensure that all potential issues will be addressed and their relationship to each other (when there is one) uncovered.

Co-occurring treatment centers offer services treating various aspects of mental health, even if they specialize in one diagnosis like eating disorders or substance abuse. The idea is that in order to be truly well, patients must be healed from all mental health issues, not just the one for which they are in treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is well-established as a successful, long-term treatment for eating disorders and other mood disorders, and it and other similar therapies can be used to treat co-occurring disorders simultaneously. CBT focuses on identifying, understanding and changing thinking and behavior patterns. Medication may be used in conjunction with therapy to aid in the treatment of symptoms of anxiety and depression.

PTSD is another disorder with that commonly occurs alongside eating disorders, which is why Meadows Senior Fellow Jenni Schaefer is a strong believer that trauma-informed care is another important option for someone struggling with an eating disorder. Trauma-induced symptoms can exacerbate eating disorder symptoms and prevent proper recovery if both disorders are not addressed. People with eating disorders have a higher lifetime rate of PTSD than the general population, so eating disorder treatment that includes trauma-informed care is highly beneficial. Trauma-informed care offers evidence-based treatments that specifically treat PTSD, like biofeedback, neurofeedback and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Why Choose Co-Occurring Treatment?

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, a study of over 2,400 patients hospitalized for eating disorders found that 94% had a co-occurring mood disorder. This means that the vast majority of people diagnosed with eating disorders also struggle with another diagnosable disorder.

Co-occurring treatment aims to identify and treat any and all mental health issues a patient may be struggling with, even if they are in treatment for one specific disorder. This type of treatment is whole-person oriented, individualized and comprehensive in its approach to mental health. Recovery from one disorder without recovery from others is not true recovery and can lead to relapse in the future, so treating all disorders at once provides a higher likelihood of long-term success.

Getting Help For a Co-Occurring Eating Disorder

At The Meadows Ranch, we have your loved one’s best interests at heart, just as you do. Those who are suffering from a co-occurring eating disorder deserve healing, but so do you and the rest of your family. We don’t believe there are shortcuts to recovery, but we have seen individuals in our programs learn how to thrive again. If you or a loved one is dealing with a co-occurring eating disorder, our knowledgeable and caring staff are ready to help you embark on a journey toward long-term healing.

Call 866-332-5209
Outdoor seating at Meadows Ranch