Eating disorders linked with addiction risk

December 19, 2003 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Eating disorders linked with addiction risk
People with eating disorders are much more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or smoke than the general population, according to a new study examining information from federal government health data, and 500 books, reports, and articles. Eating disorders and addictions seem to be interrelated, with a five-fold increase in addiction rates among those with eating disorders, and an eleven-fold increase in eating disorders among those who abuse alcohol or illicit drugs.

Both problems afflict the very young and quickly spiral out of control. High school girls with eating disorder symptoms are much likelier to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or use drugs than those without such symptoms. Even middle-school girls � typically age 10 to 14 � who have dieted in the previous month and evidence no eating pathology are almost twice as likely to become smokers as nondieters.

Researchers suggest that this lethal link between substance abuse and eating disorders should be a red flag for parents, teachers and health professionals � where you see signs of eating disorders, look for signs of substance abuse and vice versa.

Patients with anorexia and bulimia may share certain characteristics with substance abusers such as brain chemistry imbalances, low self-esteem or depression. They may also have unrealistic body images. The report found that while only 15 percent of girls under 18 were overweight, 40 percent of girls in grades one through five and 62 percent of teenage girls said they were trying to lose weight.

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