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  • Binge-Eating Disorder (BED) & Addiction | Symptoms, Risk Factors, & Dual Diagnosis Treatment

    Published on May 11, 2021
    Binge-Eating Disorder (BED) & Addiction

    Binge-eating disorder is different from other eating disorders (such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa) due to the lack of compensatory behaviors. Compensatory behaviors, such as purging, laxative abuse, or excessive exercise, are not found in patients after binging.

    Medical professionals have compared binge eating to substance use disorders (SUDs) and drug addiction in the past. Both conditions have similar traits and observed behaviors. Both are classified as mental disorders by the DSM-5.

    Symptoms Of Comorbid Binge-Eating disorder & Addiction

    Binge eating can be seen as a form of addictive behavior. BED and addiction can both involve a lack of control over your eating or drug use habits. Clinicians looking to diagnose a patient may look for signs of specific substances or foods the patient prefers to use.

    Binge-eating disorder usually involves eating large amounts of food quickly. Addiction is often a severe form of a substance use disorder, where long-term drug abuse continues despite decreased health or social consequences.

    Shared symptoms of BED and SUDs include:

    • lack of control over eating behaviors or drug use
    • increased impulsivity
    • binging or substance use caused by similar changes in brain chemistry
    • higher chance of relapse (compared to non-comorbid patients)

    Binge-Eating Disorder Vs. Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

    There is still debate on whether binge-eating disorder is a legitimate addiction, or simply a disorder that resembles one. Binge eating causes many side effects not usually seen with drug addiction, such as problems with body image and body weight.

    Binge eating also focuses on the amount of food eaten, instead of the type of food. Substance abuse involves the use of a specific substance, whether that substance is opioids, cannabis, cocaine, or others.

    Binge eating and addiction are still treated as separate health problems by many medical professionals, despite their similarities. However, someone with BED may also live with a drug or alcohol use disorder.

    Risk Factors For Comorbid BED & SUD

    A 2012 study found that a higher comorbidity of substance use disorders in patients with eating disorders is higher than that of the general population. Comorbidity is the presence of two or more health conditions in the same patient.

    Binge-eating disorder and substance use disorder can feed into each other. Other factors may also lead to one or both disorders.

    Poor Mental Health

    People who struggle with their mental health can cope with it in unhealthy ways. This can include the use of illicit drugs or eating large amounts of food.

    BED and SUDs can also cause mental health problems, including low self-esteem, problems with your body image, and depression and anxiety. Like other comorbid conditions, it can be difficult to tell which mental disorder led to the next one.

    High-Risk Groups In Women

    Younger and middle-aged women may be at a higher risk for binge-eating disorder than older women. Women who diet may also be at a much higher risk for BED than women who do not.

    More than half of people suffering from binge-eating disorder in the United States are women. More research may be needed to tell why many women are at higher risk for BED than men.

    Marijuana & BED

    Certain substances may put a person at higher risk for binge-eating disorder. Cannabis is a well-known substance that increases appetite. Increased appetite may lead to overeating and binge eating, which can become chronic if cannabis use goes beyond the short-term.

    More research is needed to find a concrete link between cannabis and BEDs. Cannabis is also a popular target for recreational substance use, which can develop into a substance use disorder.

    Treatment For Co-Occurring BED & Addiction

    The similarities between BED and drug addiction can lead to the same treatments working on both co-occurring disorders. Many psychotherapies have been applied to treat each disorder on their own, and may still be effective when given to comorbid patients.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be successful in treating both BED and drug addiction. CBT involves a therapist and patient working on the mental health issues that can cause addictive behavior.

    CBT can help patients identify behaviors and work on skills such as:

    • monitoring food consumption and drug use
    • identifying substance-related and food-related triggers
    • problem-solving

    By working on underlying mental health issues, CBT can also teach patients how to approach their physical health.

    Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

    Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is another psychotherapy used to treat comorbid patients. DBT focuses on controlling your emotions and ways to cope when your mental health is struggling.

    Some studies have shown that DBT is linked to long-term recovery, reduced binge eating, and less severe addiction.


    Comorbid binge-eating disorder and addiction may be caused by underlying mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Antidepressants can improve your mental health while having a lower abuse potential than many other substances.

    An effective treatment program for you or your loved one is available. To find the best treatment for you, talk to your healthcare professional or contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
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