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Alcoholism Eating Disorders

The Link Between Eating Disorders and Alcoholism

Research demonstrates that a whopping 97 percent of people who suffer from alcoholism also admit to another disorder, whether it’s sexual promiscuity, depression, antisocial personality disorder, an eating disorder, or some other problem. The term comorbidity describes that a person suffers from more than one disorder at the same time. One does not necessarily cause the other, but multiple disorders can certainly have an impact each on the other. Drug treatment programs must be equipped to treat the whole person, and help him manage or recover from comorbid disorders.

From the Threads

Have you ever posted or read a thread on a discussion board? One young woman talks about wanting to manage her own self-image after being discharged from a hospital for treatment of anorexia. While she has not been diagnosed or treated for alcoholism, she knows she drinks too much. She vaguely admits that her drinking has put her in some crazy situations and people have said negative things about her. So she goes on a quest to stop drinking for 30 days. She decides a few days into treatment that she will succeed only if she stays away from all friends and family members. She knows they will tell her she cannot stop drinking for 30 days.

People posting on the discussion board are sympathetic to her and supportive. One responder admits of failing her own pledge to stop drinking because she went to watch a friend of hers perform as a disc jockey, but that person climbs back up on the horse and restarts her own sobriety pledge. Our anorexic person laments feeling really down and admits that she didn’t know what she expected. The month is taking forever. She is afraid to see the people she knows. At one point she calls her mother to complain about an ongoing heat wave and her mother criticizes her for being weak.

When she reaches Day 31 without alcohol, she’s uncertain what to do next, so at the suggestion of another poster she writes a list on the pros of not drinking: She is not worrying about her physical health, she is not worrying about any increase in her drinking, she has not put herself in stupid or dangerous situations, and she is not getting emotionally upset. She then goes into a pub with her mother, who still has no idea that she has stopped drinking, and orders only water. She decides to go another week without drinking. Of course, through all this, she never really talks about her anorexia.

Genetic Link

The National Eating Disorders Association believes that almost 50 percent of those with an eating disorder are simultaneously abusing drugs or alcohol. Even considering the figure above for those including all co-occurring disorders, that’s a frightening statistic. Dr. Melissa Munn-Chernoff in August 2013 published in The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs that there is a genetic link predisposing people who suffer from alcoholism to also suffer from eating disorders, and vice versa.

Researchers still do not know exactly what gene is affected, but they attribute 38 to 53 percent of those at risk for both behaviors to this genetic anomaly. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that up to 83 percent of all bulimics—those who binge-eat and then purge or use laxatives—have an alcoholic in their immediate family circle.

Get the Right Treatment

It’s important for someone suffering from an eating disorder and concomitantly struggling with alcohol abuse to find a drug treatment program offering the right kind of help. That person needs a therapeutic environment where the physicians and counselors will address both of the illnesses simultaneously, so that when the person leaves recover y, she has a good step up on the world. Help your loved one meet the challenges of recovery by choosing a residential treatment center with a wide offering of therapeutic modalities.  

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