Eating Disorders: Mental Health and/or Substance Use Disorder?

Although eating disorders are not necessary classified as an addiction by the DSM V there are many elements of addictive behaviors. According to the American Psychological Association eating disorder is classified as a mental disorder.  However, there can be no dispute that overwhelming evidence demonstrate behaviors related to eating disorders are addictive behaviors. Vertava (2021) explains statistics and research demonstrate that eating disorders and substance use co-exist and mimic each other and there is a strong links between the two. There are many are behavioral, psychological, and emotional aspects of similarities. When examining the above three, the following are true as it relates to 1) Behavioral- An inability to stop destructive behaviors after multiple attempts, obsessing over food and a preoccupation of activities. Intensive craving for food and rituals surrounding the use; giving up other interest to focus time on the addictive behaviors of eating; and continuing unusual eating habits despite negative consequences; and 2) Physical related signs- Sunken cheekbones, decaying teeth, Severe weight gain and/or loss and 3) Emotional issues related to disorder certainly does not take a back seat to other two. These emotional issues may include unresolved emotional and physical traumas, past physical and/or emotional abuse or negligent, and sexual abuse. These issues certainly resemble the core issues surrounding why people the use and/or abuse alcohol and drugs.

WebMd (2022) points out that there are basically 3 types of eating disorders: First type is Anorexia Nervosa-This is when weigh loss is bought about by extreme dieting and exercise, sometimes to the extent that the person undergoes starvation. This is also associated with Avoidance/restrictive food intake disorder. This process often begins in childhood. This is characterized by a person avoiding food based on its odor and texture. The second type of eating disorder is known as Bulimia Nervosa; this is the type of eating disorder that resembles substance addiction, because it is marked by cycles of extreme overeating and appear that the individual does not to have any control of their intake of food. Their minds appear to be continuously and constantly consumed with the thought of eating and food. This process is also marked by purging oneself and other behaviors to compensate for overeating and in addition, the individual, when not eating, can have a feeling of loss. The third major is Binge eating disorder. This is very similar to Bulimia as well as demonstrates close association to alcohol and drug abuse. The major difference is that in Binge eating disorder, individuals do not purge themselves of the food. In addition, Binging is marked by an individual continuing to eat even after they are full.

Research shows that almost 50 percent of individual with eating disorders struggles with either alcohol or drugs addiction. It has proven that many of the neurotransmitters involved with an eating disorder are shared with alcohol and drug addiction. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (NAANAD) (2021) points out that at least 9% of the world’s population is affected by eating disorders and that it is among the deadliest mental illness, second only to opioid overdose. The NAANAD also explains that at least 28% of the US population will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. There are over 10.200 deaths each year one about every 52 minutes occur resulting from eating disorders. The NAANAD (2021) further explains that 26% of people with eating disorders attempt suicide. The economic cost is 64.7 billion a year.

The National Center of Biotechnology Institute (NCBI) (2009) reports that epidemiological studies show that anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are more common among females than males. However, gender disparity is reversed as it relates to “subthreshold binge eating” about 0.6% for women and 1.9% for men. In addition, the prevalence of ‘any binge eating’ is roughly comparable in women and men 4.9 % and 4.0% respectively. It also reports that girls and women are more likely than boys or men to report weigh dissatisfactions, dieting for weigh control and use purging. Boys and men are more likely to report binge eating and use of exercise as means of weigh control.


NAANAD (2021), Eating Disorder Statistics. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from

NCBI (2009), Gender Difference in the Prevalence of Eating Disorder Symptoms. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from

Vertava Health (2021), the Link Between Eating Disorders and Addiction. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from

WebMD (2021), Signs of Eating Disorder. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from


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