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Eating disorders and drug addiction are often related illnesses

(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

SCOTTSDALE — This is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and it serves as more than just a reminder about the ravages of food-related illnesses.

Oftentimes, food disorders do not exist in isolation.

It is not uncommon for those who suffer from eating disorders to also experience substance addiction.

Singer and actress Demi Lovato candidly revealed in an interview on Ashley Graham’s podcast “Pretty Big Deal” that her recent drug relapse was sparked by the stress of an unresolved eating disorder.

“I honestly think that’s kind of what led to everything happening over the past year was just me thinking I found recovery when I didn’t, and then living this kind of lie and trying to tell the world I was happy with myself when I really wasn’t,” Lovato admitted.

Lovato’s experience is also reflected by the findings of clinicians such as Al Toledo, a primary therapist at Scottsdale Recovery Center.

Speaking to KTAR News 92.3 FM about the relationship between eating disorders and drug abuse, Toledo said “Both of them take place in the same region of the brain, basically dealing with regulation and being able to abstain from behaviors.”

He says these “co-occurring disorders” interfere with one another, and must be treated together for maximum effectiveness.

“Some people do decide to treat one [disorder] and the other will just sit there,” Toledo said.

“You always run the risk of the other [disorder] running rampant.”

That is why Toledo embraces a holistic therapeutic approach that includes talk therapy and crafting new patterns for behavior, eating and drug reduction.

“More often than not, people who are dealing with an eating disorder have gone through some sort of trauma,” he said.

“The same is very true for people who have gone through — or are going through — substance abuse.”

Toledo also says people who struggle with eating disorders often turn to drugs and alcohol to achieve their desired weight, or to self-medicate.

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