Addiction, Eating Disorders Linked

Sep 11, 2004 12:07 PM EDT

A recent study has found that people with eating disorders are much more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or smoke than the general population.

The report, issued by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University in New York, found that individuals with eating disorders are up to five times likelier to abuse alcohol or illicit drugs—and those who abuse alcohol or illicit drugs are up to 11 times likelier to have eating disorders.

Girls More Likely

Both problems afflict the very young and quickly spiral out of control. High school girls with eating disorders are much likelier to smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs than those without the disorders. 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 non-dieters.

CASA collected information from federal government health data and 500 books, reports and articles for its analysis.

Strong Message to Parents

The report suggests this link between substance abuse and eating disorders should send a strong message to parents, teachers and health professionals—when a child shows signs of eating disorders they may also be abusing substances and vice versa.

The report also suggested 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% of girls under 18 were overweight, 40% of girls in grades one through five and 62% of teenage girls said they were trying to lose weight.