Eating disorders [EDs] commonly occur with other mental illnesses, one of those being Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Both of these disorders present significant public health issues, particularly in regard to children and adolescents.
ADHD is one of the most frequently diagnosed childhood disorders, with parent-reported ADHD diagnoses rapidly increasing from “7.8 in 2003 to 9.5 in 2007, and most recently to 11% in 2011 .”
Eating Disorder diagnoses have increased over time as well, with 30 million Americans now reportedly suffering from some form of ED. Further, 14% of all adolescents and 31% of adult females engage in disordered eating behaviors .
The prevalence of both of these disorders on their own is concerning, but diagnosis and treatment become further complicated when they co-occur.
Research indicates that adolescent females with ADHD are 3.6 times more likely to develop an ED and 5.6 times more likely to develop bulimia nervosa .
Further research has yielded evidence that those with ADHD most commonly manifest ED behaviors involving binge eating/purging such as Anorexia binge-purge subtype, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder .
One sample found that 10.4% of participants with ADHD experienced an ED, most commonly binge eating disorder .
It was found that, among those individuals with bingeing/purging-related EDs, the presence of ADHD worsened the disorder, increasing the frequency of binge eating episodes and resulting in more severe psychopathology .
Researchers have looked into the connections between these disorders and found a few possible explanations.
One theory is that there is a neurological basis for both ADHD and binge/pure EDs. Researchers posit that individuals with either/both disorders have a “lack of dopamine-based natural reward,” leading to impulsive behaviors such as hyperactivity and/or binge eating .
Researchers also hypothesize that the traits connecting these two issues are more socially oriented. Both disorders can be mediated by issues with social support such as peer-rejection and dysfunctional parent-child relationships .
Additionally, both disorders share common personality traits such as obsessive-compulsiveness and perfectionism .
A final theory posits that there is a third mental disorder resulting in both ADHD and ED behaviors, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or bipolar disorder .
It is likely that there is no one cause or connection and that all, or none of these, may be true depending on the individual.
As with all instances in which eating disorders co-occur, treating both at once can be challenging but not impossible. Be sure to consult with your treatment team if you are concerned you are experiencing both disorders so that you can approach overcoming both disorders together and lead a happy, healthy, life.
About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
References: Bleck, J et al. (2015). Underlying mechanisms and trajectory of comorbid ADHD and eating disorders: proposing an innovative systems framework for informing research. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 14: 449-458.
 Biederman, J., et al. (2010). Adult psychiatric outcomes of girls with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: 11-year follow-up in a longitudinal case-control study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 409-417.  Mattos, P. et al (2004). Comorbid eating disorders in a brazilian attention deficit/hyperactivity adult clinical sample. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 248-250.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on February 3, 2018.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com