Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by tight control over eating, to the point of avoiding food and an obsession with weight. Alcoholism is characterized by an out-of-control consumption of alcoholic beverages, drinking to the point of getting drunk compulsively.
At first glance, these two conditions may appear to have very little to do with each other, one seeking to avoid consuming food as much as possible, the other making consumption of high caloric alcoholic beverages the center of life. However, a deeper look revels a common connection of anxiety and feels of low self worth that causes both conditions to occur simultaneously.
Food For Thought: Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders, a 2013 study from CASA Columbia (The Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse) has revealed that 50 percent of the individuals with eating disorders have abused alcohol or illicit drugs. Furthermore, up to 35 percent of individuals dependent on alcohol or drugs have an eating disorder, compared with 9 percent of the general population.
The co-occurrence of these disorders is especially likely to affect teenagers and young adults.
Reasons for the link
Both anorexia and alcoholism are illness that can creep up on a person. Angela Gambrel has written a blog, reflecting on her personal struggle with both anorexia and alcoholism, how she both gradually restricted her eating more and more, while increasingly turning to wine as a way to take the edge off, until both turned into obsessions that together became life threatening.
Even though one of the main causes of anorexia may be an attempt to manage of stressful feelings, it is also a stress-inducing condition. Even when people struggling with the disorder loose weight, they often continue to have unceasing feelings of anxiety.
This feeling of stress can make alcohol an attractive option, a sedative to numb the mind that may appear to be the only way to truly relax. Both anorexia and alcoholism emerge out of attempts to control what feels uncontrollable, coping devises to help handle life.
Young adults are particularly susceptible to feelings of being overwhelmed, of having to cope with feelings of anxiety. Alcoholism can make the problem of anorexia seem less serious, a temporary way to feel happy and normal.
However, it is a Band-Aid of denial over a gapping wound, and the combination can have serious consequences.
Drinking on an empty stomach increases alcohol's potency, increasing the likelihood of serious problems. Without fat or water to absorb alcohol and mitigate some of its effects, a dangerous state of drunkenness can be reached a lot quicker, leading to very risky behaviors.
Both eating too little and drinking too much put tremendous strain on the body, in the liver especially. Without enough calories to function, the body has to "eat itself" as it takes nutrients from liver tissue, limiting its ability to function.
This in turn limits the liver's ability to process the alcohol and keep it from causing health damage. Thus, the combination of anorexia and alcoholism can lead to serious health conditions, even death.
Like any example of co-morbidity, it is essential that treatment for anorexia and alcoholism be holistic and linked together. They are both intimately connected together in the same person, causing and intensifying each other, and so recovery will mean finding ways to treat both of them at the same time.
Sometimes, substance abuse often requires detoxification that can take emphasis off eating disorder treatment. There is a huge need for more research to find ways to integrate treatment for both conditions.
Both are often rooted in common causes searching for healthier ways of coping with life, and any treatment program should look at healing these deeper physiological issues as well.