How Do Eating Disorders and Addiction Overlap?

Kelsey Ferrara
Woman staring out a bright window and looking pensive

Eating disorders and addiction may seem completely different on the surface, but they share a lot of insidious similarities. Both disorders are maladaptive coping mechanisms–which is another way to say they are unhealthy and unsustainable ways to cope with everyday stressors.  

To gain more insight on the overlap between eating disorders and SUD, we spoke with Candace Kotkin-De Carvalho, a licensed social worker and Clinical Director for Absolute Awakenings. “Studies have found a strong relationship between disordered eating, [and] substance use,” Carvalho said. “Bulimia nervosa shows the strongest links to substance use at 36.8%.” 

Many healthcare professionals suspect these disorders co-occur at such high rates because they have similar risk factors. Those risk factors include things like trauma, genetics, environment, perfectionism, and low self-esteem. According to Carvalho, “knowing the risk factors associated with these conditions can help people better understand their behaviors and motivations, as well as recognize the warning signs in others.” 

How can we help?

Dealing with one of these disorders on their own can feel overwhelming–but living with both can make recovery feel impossible. That’s where we come in. We’ve gathered a collection of resources to help those who are living with both an eating disorder and addiction. If you or a loved one are feeling overwhelmed, start here: 

How to find treatment for eating disorders and substance use 

  • ATLAS – this treatment locator can help you find treatment centers that specialize  in treating eating disorders and substance abuse. If you’re just starting out and don’t know where to start–take the ATLAS assessment. 
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline – this free, confidential treatment referral service is available 24/7, 365 days a year. It provides information for individuals or families facing a variety of mental disorders and substance use disorders. 
  • NEDA’s Evaluation and Diagnosis – these assessments will help determine the level of care you need. 
  • National Alliance for Eating Disorders – this organization provides support groups. There’s a lot of stigma associated with eating disorders, and that stigma can cause people to feel isolated in their illness. This organization prioritizes a sense of community. Provides free, weekly, therapist-led eating disorder support groups (both virtually and in-person). They also define exactly what you can expect when it comes to eating disorder treatment
  • A list of questions to ask your treatment providers – list of questions for patients, family members and other members of a support system to ask providers about treatment and recovery.
  • Dietitian Central – Find a dietitian in your state with this database of registered dietitians and nutrition specialists in each state. 

Hotlines for immediate help 

Resources for family members of those in recovery 

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