Castlewood Eating Disorder Treatment Center Blog

Eating Disorder or Disordered Eating

When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is likely that their appetite can become suppressed due to the abuse of these types of substances. After an individual receives treatment for their substance abuse and is clean and sober, it’s possible for them to develop an eating disorder like binge eating in order to fill the void that the absence of drugs or alcohol have left in the brain’s pleasure center. However, it’s important to know the difference between having developed an eating disorder, or if you have disordered eating; the distinctive difference between the two being the level of severity and frequency of behaviors. According to the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, overeating is a common substitute addiction for drug abuse, particularly for drinkers. Because they have a similar chemical makeup, it’s not uncommon for someone in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction to replace their former addiction with an eating disorder. So how do you distinguish whether you or a loved one has disordered eating or an eating disorder? According to Dr. Carrie Gottlieb, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, a person with disordered eating will often engage in similar behavior as someone with an eating disorder, but at a lower level of severity and less frequently. This distinction isn’t to diminish the severity of disordered eating, which could put the person at risk for developing a full-blown eating disorder; it’s simply to help you identify the severity of the problem so that you can take the necessary steps in order to manage it. When a person develops an eating disorder as a replacement addiction, such as binge eating, food issues consume their thoughts and actions, making it the only thing they focus on, much like in their prior addiction. Disordered eating is more common and the changes in eating patterns displayed by the individual could be due to temporary stressors and is seen as an unhealthy relationship with food, as opposed to an eating disorder which is a psychiatric illness. There are similar symptoms to look for in either diagnosis:
  • Binging
  • Purging
  • Restrictive dieting/skipping meals
  • Diet Pill abuse/ laxative abuse
However, due to the psychological effects of a full-blown eating disorder, the following symptoms are likely only present in individuals with an eating disorder, rather than disordered eating:
  • Distorted body image
  • Frequent mirror checking
  • Obsessively thinking about food
  • Constant concern about being “fat”
  • Withdrawing from social activities
It’s evident with the symptoms of an eating disorder that is consumes all of the individuals’ thoughts and time, preventing them from partaking in normal, daily activities. Making the distinction between an eating disorder and disordered eating is important, and the misconception is each term is interchangeable; when in reality they are very different. It’s imperative to recognize the signs of both, however, especially in individuals who are in recovery from substance abuse. If you or a loved one exhibits any signs of an eating disorder or disordered eating, you should seek help right away.