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People who suffer from substance abuse and dependence problems may also secretly battle another foe: mental illness. Many times, people begin to abuse drugs or alcohol because they’re looking for relief from the pain caused by their mental illness. These mental illnesses may include depression, severe anxiety, even eating disorders. Eating disorders are the most nefarious and deadly mental illness. Eating disorders, like drug addiction, affect everyone.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University published a report called Food for Thought: Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders. This report extensively detailed the facts and studies done on eating disorders and drug abuse.  The study found that people with an eating disorder and a substance abuse issue frequently displayed behaviors including obsessive preoccupation with food or drugs, intense cravings, compulsive behavior, and social isolation. These people were also at a higher risk for suicide. The report also found that people who suffered from both an eating disorder and a drug addiction also had common brain chemistry and family history. They were more likely to use drugs combined with eating disorder behavior to self-medicate during times of stress or transition. The people studied in the report also tended to have low self-esteem, severe anxiety, and history of physical, mental, or sexual abuse. It’s interesting to point out that both substance addiction and eating disorders have multiple causes.

The report conducted by Columbia University also had insightful statistics from different studies and surveys, cited in the beginning of the report. The study pointed out that the media portrays being thing as being happy. This concept combined with the advertising and marketing of diet pills and weight loss plans has added to the pressure that many people face. According to the study, almost 50% of individuals with an eating disorder abuse alcohol or illicit drugs as compared to 9% of the general population. It also found alcohol abuse is common in people who suffer from bulimia. Alcohol dependent bulimic women report a higher rate of suicide attempts, anxiety disorders, and dependence on other substances than bulimic women who don’t abuse alcohol.

The report does mention the growing number of men who have been diagnosed with eating disorders; however the report does say adolescent girls and middle-aged women are the two largest groups who suffer from reported eating disorders.  The report also cited the 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Survey which found disturbing rates among girls who abuse drugs and have an eating disorder as compared to general non-eating disordered population.  The Youth Risk Behavior Study found 43% of girls with eating disorders binge drink as compared to 21% who do not have eating disorders, 42% use marijuana as opposed to 23%, and 58% use cocaine as compared to 26% of the general population.

Many people view drug abuse and addiction as a singular problem, but usually there are many obstacles addicts have to face before they can truly get better. People who suffer from both a substance abuse issue and a mental illness (like an eating disorder) should try to find a rehab which offers dual diagnosis therapy. The battle with addiction can be just one of many struggles a person has to overcome to live a happy and healthy life.

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