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Eating Disorder Treatment

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woman with an eating disorder

Drug Abuse and Eating Disorder Treatment Combined

Research shows that people admitted for eating disorder treatment often abuse amphetamine, crystal meth, cocaine or diet pills in an attempt to manage or lose weight (Gadalla and Piran, 2007). When an eating disorder occurs in conjunction with any type of drug or alcohol abuse, treatment must address both problems.

Treatment for an eating disorder can be provided in a number of different settings ranging from inpatient treatment in a hospital to outpatient treatment in a therapist’s office. The type of treatment that seems to have produced the best results, however, is in-facility or residential treatment. In residential treatment, individuals are in a less restrictive environment than a hospital but are provided more structure than in an outpatient program.

Recovery is Possible with Treatment

Eating disorders share a number of common characteristics with drug abuse including obsessive behavior, cravings, secretiveness and rituals as well as sudden changes in mood. There are also many common risk factors such as:

  • Family history.
  • History of sexual or physical abuse.
  • Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, impulsivity.
  • Susceptibility to messages from advertising and entertainment media.
  • Transition or stress.
  • Obesity.
  • Consuming high-sugar and high-fat foods.
  • Unhealthy parental behaviors and low monitoring of children’s activities.
  • Unhealthy peer norms and social pressures (Yau, et al., 2014).

The best type of drug abuse and eating disorder treatment is a dual diagnosis program. Dual diagnosis programs treat both conditions at the same time to prevent the risk of relapse. Research shows that treating only one addiction at a time can make the other get worse (Mee-Lee et al., 2013). Treating both conditions at the same time helps ensure a more successful recovery.

Addicted individuals in a dual diagnosis program within a residential eating disorder treatment center learn to live drug-free lives as well as how to manage healthy food intake. They learn how to shop for food, prepare food and understand the dynamics associated with a healthy eating plan. These practices best prepare patients for life after treatment and become part of their relapse prevention plan.

Restoring a Healthy Body Image through Treatment

One of the main issues addressed in any type of eating disorder treatment is body image. Distorted body image is often seen in patients suffering from bulimia or anorexia (Guttierez et al., 2015). Patients with a distorted body image continually view themselves as too fat and go to extremes in order to reach an image acceptable to them. In treatment, they learn that the distorted image they see in the mirror does not exist and they learn how to accept a healthy image of themselves (Yau, et al.).

Oftentimes the individual’s weight will play a role in his or her body image as well. Eating disorder treatment centers continually report that people judge their self worth and body against how much they weigh. They believe that if they are able to reach a certain weight “all will be well.” This is, of course, an illusion because that weight does not exist (Campisi, et al., 2015). Through therapy and group counseling, treatment helps people accept what “normal weight” is regardless of how they feel (Yau, et al.).

Let us help you find effective eating disorder treatment to meet your needs. Call us toll-free at 1-888-744-0069 for a free confidential consultation with a qualified treatment support professional 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


  • Gadall, T., and Giran, N. (2007). Eating disorders and substance abuse in Canadian men and women: a national study. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention 15(3):189-203.
  • Campisi, J., et al. (2015). Sex and age-related differences in perceived, desired, and measured percentage body fat among adults. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 28(5):486-492.
  • Guttierez, T., et al. (2015). Association of biological, psychological, and lifestyle risk factors for eating disturbances in adolescents. Journal of Health Psychology 20(6):839-849
  • Mee-Lee, D. et al. (2013). The ASAM Criteria: Treatment Criteria for Addictive, Substance-Related, and Co-Occurring Conditions. Third Edition. Chevy Chase, MD: The Change Companies.
  • Yau, Y.H.C., et al. (2014). Chapter 7: Food Addiction: Evidence, Evaluation, and Treatment. In Rosenberg, K.P., and Feder, L.C., Editors. Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence, and Treatment. Boston, MA: Elsevier. pp. 143-184.
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Patrick Condron, M.Sc., M.A.C., is an addiction specialist and drug and alcohol counselor. He is Executive Director of Lazarus House, Inc., a transitional residential program for men and women who continue to work on their recovery towards independent living.
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