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Binge Eating Disorder And Addiction

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

Medically reviewed by

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

March 12, 2019

Binge eating disorder most commonly affects women in the United States, many of whom also suffer from a substance abuse disorder. Together, these already dangerous disorders pose even more risk. Fortunately, both of these conditions are treatable with the right treatment program.

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. It affects 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and up to 1.6% of youth, as reported by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). This disorder is characterized by eating excessive amounts of food very quickly, until one is uncomfortable.

Fortunately, this disorder is treatable, and was recognized in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), as a diagnosable eating disorder in 2013. The classification of BED as an eating disorder is important because some insurance companies will not provide coverage for eating disorders, unless they are classified as such. For more information about the classification of binge eating disorder, visit the NEDA webpage.

Binge Eating Disorder—How To Recognize The Signs

Binge eating disorder does not just involve a recurring pattern of eating large quantities of food over a short period of time, though that is one of the major signs of this disorder.

According to NEDA, which bases their criteria on those of the DSM-5, for a person to be diagnosed as having BED, they must exhibit three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Eating more quickly than normal
  • Eating until one is uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food, even when one is not hungry
  • Eating alone—this is due to feeling ashamed or embarrassed over how much one is eating
  • Feeling disgust, guilt, or depression after binging

Also, the binge eating must occur regularly, happening at minimum, of about once a week, for at least a period of three months. It is important to note that in order for these behaviors to be diagnosed as binge eating, as extracted from the DSM-5 guidelines presented by NEDA, the binge eating must not be “associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging) as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.”

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Certain behaviors may indicate a problem with binge eating, they include:

  • The disappearance of large amounts of food
  • Secret food behaviors (such as stealing, hiding, or hoarding food)
  • Taking on a different food schedule, such as not partaking in regular meal times, skipping meals, or eating very small portions at meals
  • Adopting a strict, rigid attitude toward food, a person may go through random diets and fasting

Though an individual may, in many cases, eat beyond being uncomfortably full, they will not necessarily purge, although in some cases, this disorder may result in subsequent purging as an individual attempts to counter the discomfort of binging. Instead, they may make special time within their day to accommodate these binging episodes.

How Binge Eating Disorder Impacts Your Life

Binging can have several negative side effects, including, feelings of stress, shame, or of a lack of control. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) warns that binge eating may cause obesity, which raises a person’s risk of developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, some aspects that occur alongside binge eating disorder include functional impairment, risk of suicide, and for many victims of BED, co-occurring mental or substance use disorders.

People diagnosed with binge eating disorder have stated that they feel that it is often misunderstood by others. This feeling can greatly increase the social anxiety, moodiness, and depression that often accompanies the disorder. The NIMH tells us that BED may lead to other disorders, including substance use disorder. The point to remember is that treatment is available—for both binge eating and substance use disorders.

Binge Eating Disorder And Addiction—What You Need To Know

The sad truth is that research suggests that up to 50% of people that experience an eating disorders will also encounter some form of substance abuse. According to NEDA, men in particular are affected, in that 57% of males with BED will also experience lifelong substance abuse.

Further, eating disorders and substance abuse are associated with a higher than expected rate of death, due to an increased risk of suicide and medical complications. In the case of the latter, many types of addiction may exacerbate or even cause cardiovascular concerns. This is especially alarming since binge eating disorder, as we’ve noted, can cause high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Alcohol abuse is common among people that suffer from eating disorders, as it fosters dehydration and purging. People with eating disorders also abuse illicit drugs, including prescription drugs (opioids), and even over-the-counter drugs. Additionally, it is important to note that substance abuse may develop before, during, or after treatment for an eating disorder, so it is important to diagnose this disorder to get proper and timely treatment for both disorders.

Treating Binge Eating Disorder And Addiction

As with any comorbid disorders (two disorders which occur together), it is very important that both are diagnosed properly, and that the person receive appropriate care and support for each condition. The key to a successful recovery is getting treatment that is individualized and based on person’s specific needs. In order for a person to have the greatest chance of success, these disorders should be treated in conjunction with each other, as one left untreated could aggravate the other, and possibly cause a relapse.

A good treatment program can address these co-occurring disorders, and in many cases, an inpatient drug rehab may be the best avenue of treatment due the demands that the dual diagnosis will create. NEDA elaborates on this, stressing that it is important to incorporate a treatment that will “address both disorders in an integrated way [and which] holds promise to help reduce the all too common pattern of patients vacillating between their eating disorder and substance abuse.”

For binge eating disorder, treatment must include restoring proper nutrition, and helping the individual quit binging behaviors. Solid recovery treatment will often include behavioral health counseling, as binge eating may, in many cases, stem from a behavioral health concern. Thorough treatment should involve psychotherapy, in individual and/or group sessions, medical care and monitoring, and adequate nutrition counseling. It may also include certain supplements or medications, depending on the individual’s needs—in example, a person experiencing depression as a result of BED may be prescribed antidepressants.

For treatment of any substance abuse disorder, it is important that you or your loved one get the combination of treatments—medication, behavioral therapy, etc.—that is right for him or her.

Let Us Help You Find Better Health

Binge eating disorder impacts a fair percentage of people in the U.S., and to reiterate, substance abuse strikes 50% of those experiencing BED. The scope of this problem is one which cannot be ignored. Maybe you are looking for answers today—trying to decide if you should seek help for a daughter, son, partner, or yourself. You are not alone, and you should not ignore the signs. Contact us today to get the help you need to treat your binge eating disorder, substance abuse, or both.

National Eating Disorders Association - Binge Eating Disorder

National Eating Disorders Association - Substance Abuse And Eating Disorders

National Institute of Mental Health - Eating Disorders: About More Than Food

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