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Anorexia Nervosa & Addiction | Dual Diagnosis Symptoms, Risk Factors, & Treatment

Published on May 5, 2021
Anorexia Nervosa & Addiction | Dual Diagnosis Symptoms & Treatment

Eating disorders can affect anyone at any age. Some of the eating disorders you may be familiar with include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder (BED)

Those suffering from anorexia can become dangerously underweight. If the person also struggles with a substance use disorder, they may have a higher risk of life-threatening symptoms. 

Anorexia Nervosa

Eating disorders can develop for a number of reasons. Due to societal pressures, especially for women, too much importance has been placed on body image. 

Unfortunately, this leads people to choose dieting techniques that may be harmful to their health. A distorted view of body weight can cause anorexia and lead to major health issues.

Symptoms​ Of Anorexia

Those suffering from anorexia may be obsessed with weight loss. Once these obsessive thoughts occur, the person can have a distorted view of their own weight, even believing their thinness to be obesity.

Eating disorders such as anorexia are mental health problems that make the person believe untruths about their weight. When this occurs, the person may decrease their food intake to dangerously low levels.

Someone with anorexia may have a wide-range of physical and emotional symptoms such as:

  • irritability
  • low self-esteem
  • fear of eating in public
  • lack of motivation
  • low blood pressure
  • irregular heart rhythms
  • social withdrawal
  • difficulty sleeping
  • constipation and abdominal pain

Risk Factors

There are many potential causes for anorexia nervosa. Many cope with trauma by strictly controlling their food intake. 

Some of the other risk factors for developing anorexia may include:

  • mental health
  • peer pressure
  • the environment
  • genetics 

Those suffering from mental illness may also have distorted perceptions, including perceptions regarding their weight and eating behaviors. This is due in part to changes in brain chemistry. 

Societal peer pressure can also make one feel obligated to lose weight. This can start a dangerous cycle, one that leads to the person becoming more desperate for weight loss and therefore turning to laxatives, amphetamines, purging, diuretics (water pills), and poor eating habits.

If a relative has suffered from an eating disorder, there is a greater chance that someone else in the family may develop a disorder as well. 


In order to treat anorexia nervosa, as well as a number of eating disorders, a treatment facility is recommended. This is because treatment for anorexia can come in the form of psychotherapy, medicine, and even nutritional counseling. 

During treatment, your weight will be monitored, you’ll undergo cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for your mental illness, and receive addiction treatment.


The obsessive thoughts that go hand-in-hand with anorexia can spill over into other aspects of the person’s life. For instance, a person with anorexia may develop a drug use problem or even suffer from alcohol abuse.


Symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse can range from headaches to death and many issues in-between. When you discover a loved one is suffering from addiction, you may begin to notice signs like:

  • difficulty in decision-making
  • trouble with memory
  • lots of stress
  • strange behaviors
  • prioritizing substance use over relationships
  • co-occurring mental disorders such as anorexia

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors that make it more likely for someone to suffer from addiction, including:

  • early experimentation with drugs
  • poverty in the community
  • lack of parental supervision
  • the availability of drugs in school
  • mental health problems

Those who grew up in homes where drug use or alcohol use was prevalent are more likely to develop alcohol or drug addiction. Problems at school is another risk factor since students may turn to drugs when worried about school matters.

Those suffering from mental illness may also have lower self-esteem and sometimes trouble with impulse control and addictive behaviors. This can lead to the person turning to illicit drugs and alcohol abuse.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

If you struggle with anorexia nervosa as well as addiction, immediate action must be taken to avoid any life-threatening issues that may arise. Co-occurring disorders usually require a dual diagnosis treatment center that treats both conditions at the same time.

When dealing with a dual diagnosis of anorexia and substance use disorder, withdrawal can be more severe and the symptoms can escalate to the point of hospitalization. Treatment may include detox support, psychiatry, behavioral therapy, and more. 

To learn more about substance abuse treatment programs for your specific needs, including eating disorder treatment, please contact us today. We have both inpatient and outpatient options available. 

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

National Alliance on Mental Illness - Eating Disorders
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Drug Misuse and Addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Understanding Drug Use and Addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse - What are the Other Health Consequences of Drug Addiction?
National Institute of Mental Health - Eating Disorders
US National Library of Medicine - Does Anorexia Nervosa Resemble an Addiction?

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