Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse: Understanding This Dangerous Coping Mechanism

At Calm Rehab, we are dedicated to highlighting the complexities of substance abuse and how it is often intertwined with other mental health issues. In order to tackle addiction, we must identify the root causes, triggers, and unhealthy coping mechanisms associated with it. Unfortunately, they aren’t always easy to spot, and they will always be unique to the individual who is suffering. Sometimes, a coexisting condition of substance abuse might be an eating disorder. This self-destructive tendency is often a sign that an individual is perpetuating a cycle of harm, and it can be challenging to break if it goes too far. Today, we want to delve into the signs of substance abuse, focusing on a variety of eating disorders that could show a person is using or on the path towards it, explaining why they often coexist. We will also share some healthy coping mechanisms and some steps to take if you fear yourself or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or an eating disorder. 

Defining Substance Abuse: Understanding the Signs

Substance use disorder can take many forms, but it is often a term associated with an individual excessively consuming drugs or alcohol and showing addictive behaviours towards them. It is essential that we all understand and recognise the signs to provide the correct support for ourselves and those around us. Some of the more common signs that someone is struggling with addiction are as follows: 

  • When a person is developing a strong tolerance and often requires a larger amount of the substance to achieve the desired effect. 
  • When a person shows withdrawal symptoms after not using the substance for a while or attempting to cut down. 
  • When a person is struggling or fails to reduce their substance intake or can’t seem to take a break from it. 
  • When a person spends a lot of time using, obtaining, or recovering from the impact of substances. 
  • When a person begins to neglect their home, work, or social life. 
  • When a person ignores the adverse effects substances are having on their health and relationships. 

If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone you know, talk to somebody immediately. The sooner we tackle substance abuse, the sooner we can get back to the person we really are. 

Why Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse Often Coexist

It is not irregular for eating disorders and substance abuse to occur at the same time. There are often deep-rooted psychological factors that lead individuals to seek coping mechanisms. Both these disorders are usually related to underlying issues such as low self-esteem, trauma, or an avoidance of emotional distress. When a person struggles with an eating disorder, they will likely turn to substance abuse as an additional means of coping, numbing their feelings or further controlling their weight. To deal with the overwhelming burden of negative emotions, we often seek solace in the wrong places. If you see anyone struggling with either of these disorders, talk to them and let them know they aren’t alone.  

Four Common Types of Eating Disorders and Their Impact on Substance Use

Anorexia Nervosa – This eating disorder involves extreme calorie restriction and is often associated with body dysmorphia, giving an individual a distorted body image. It can lead to severe organ damage and malnutrition. People struggling with Anorexia Nervosa may use substances to suppress their appetite or to cope with the trauma causing it.  

Bulimia Nervosa – This involves moderate to excessive binge eating followed by behaviours such as vomiting or extreme amounts of exercise.  This binge-purge cycle can be detrimental to a person’s self-esteem, well-being, and physical health. Often, people suffering from this eating disorder start using substances to cope with the shame or guilt they are feeling.

Binge Eating Disorder – This is where individuals have recurring episodes of uncontrollable eating. Without addressing binge eating disorders, it can often lead to obesity and other health issues such as heart or liver disease. Sufferers are highly likely to use substances to escape the emotional distress caused by their eating disorder. 

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) – This is when a person avoids or restricts certain foods, which can sometimes lead to nutritional deficiencies and uncontrollable weight gain or loss. Those who suffer from ARFID often have a tremendous amount of anxiety, leading to an unhealthy relationship with food and substances. 

What Makes Eating Disorders Such a Dangerous Coping Mechanism

Eating disorders are dangerous because they are detrimental to our health and give us a false sense of relief from the emotional distress caused by various mental health issues. Though they can provide short-term relief, it is massively outweighed by the physical and psychological harm they cause. Additionally, eating disorders are surrounded by stigma and often prevent a person from seeking the necessary help, leading them to find other ways of coping, such as drugs or alcohol. 

Alternative and Healthy Coping Mechanisms to Enhance our Physical and Psychological Well-Being

When a person is struggling with their mental health, they may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as developing substance use or an eating disorder. Everyone needs to seek healthy coping mechanisms. Here is a list of healthy ways to deal with emotional pain. 

Seek Support – Whether it is from friends, family, partners, or a therapist, sharing your thoughts with others is an effective way to deal with emotional pain and refrain from developing unhealthy habits. 

Physical Activity – Engaging in a healthy amount of physical activity is a brilliant way to enhance our well-being and reduce stress or anxiety. 

Relaxation Techniques – Practising relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, yoga, or meditation, can help us deal with stress and anxiety, help us think clearly, and manage cravings for both food and substances.

Hobbies – This can provide an enormous sense of fulfilment and give us an outlet to help us channel our emotional pain into something positive. From team sports to learning to play a musical instrument, finding a hobby we enjoy can work wonders. 

Stress management strategies – Do some research into finding a stress management strategy that suits you. It can be in the form of keeping a journal, engaging in creative activities, or sourcing a like-minded support network. Finding some sort of outlet can channel our negativity, helping us to understand why we feel that way and turn it into something positive. 

The Importance of Reaching Out

It is essential to reach out when we suspect that we or a loved one is experiencing a difficult time. There are several steps a person can take to find the right help. Remember, it is essential to be open and honest about what is happening, talk to a friend or family member, and seek the correct support or medical assistance to get back on track. There are plenty of online crisis resources, or you can contact Calm Rehab for advice. We are a substance rehabilitation clinic in Bali dedicated to getting everyone on the right path. Head to Calm Rehab’s main site and contact us if you need anything at all. We are here to provide as much support as we possibly can. 

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