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Misery Loves Company: Co-Occurring Addictions

Woman with hand on forehead seeks help from medical professionalOftentimes, a food related addiction can be accompanied by co-occurring addictions. If you are bulimic, you may binge food for a period of time, then switch to alcohol in order to become so sick that you throw up. If you’re an anorexic, you also may have a greater potential for succumbing to alcohol abuse. If you use food to numb, distract, calm, or comfort, you may find other substances or behaviors reinforce these needs.

Bulimics may be addicted to cigarettes to help moderate their food cravings. One of the most common co-addictions bulimics have is prescription medications and even over-the-counter drugs such as diuretics and laxatives. These addictions may work in tandem with your bulimia, compounding your addiction to food.

If you are bulimic or anorexic, you may also have a compulsive tendency to exercise, fueled by your fear of becoming fat. Maybe you believe that if you exercise and don’t eat, you’ll lose that much more weight. When the obsession with which you conduct your eating disorder is transferred to your exercise program, it becomes just another element of your addiction. You may even experience withdrawal symptoms if you are unable to exercise and feel confused, irritable, anxious, depressed, and listless. You may also feel a loss of self-confidence and self-esteem.

Unlike your eating habits, you may feel like your exercise regime does not need to be kept secret. There is no shame involved with it, only the admiration of others for your discipline. If you have an eating disorder, however, be aware that exercise can become a co-addiction. Even though society praises exercise, those with eating disorders need to be careful not to abuse it.

While treating people with eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors, we have observed an increasing number of them with substance abuse issues involving prescription medications. These are pharmaceuticals prescribed by a doctor meant to help them. The intent was good, but the results can be debilitating. Something meant for occasional use becomes an unnecessary, daily dose. It can be difficult for someone who has been prescribed one of these medications to admit he or she has been abusing the dosage, the length of time on it, or intent of the medication. Having a prescription from a doctor is often seen as a license to continue even when the use is outside of what was prescribed.

Are you struggling with a co-addiction to cigarettes, exercise, prescription drugs, or alcohol? Sometimes it is difficult for people struggling with eating disorders to be honest with themselves, and to recognize their co-addictions. You may have seen these habits as normal or justified their existence. Your co-addiction might act as a haven where pain can’t touch you. Ultimately, co-addictions only exacerbate the struggle with eating disorders and disordered eating habits. Confronting these co-addictions is therefore a crucial part of overcoming your eating disorder.

Overcoming both an eating disorder and an addiction simultaneously can be a daunting task. Remember, if you begin to feel hopeless, perhaps because of your addiction, you need to get professional help. If you are struggling with an eating disorder and possibly a related co-addiction, The Center • A Place Of HOPE Eating Disorder Team can help. Call 1-888-771-5166 / 425-771-5166 or fill out our contact form and someone will be in touch with you soon.

Excerpts taken from Gregory L. Jantz, Hope, Help & Healing From Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach To Treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Disordered Eating, WaterBrook 2010.

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