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August 11, 2017

How Eating Disorder Treatment & Addiction Treatment Differ

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When it comes to treatment for eating disorders and substance abuse disorders, there are many overlapping treatments that help address similar issues. Eating disorders and addiction both endanger a person physically, mentally, and psychiatrically, and comprehensive treatment is often necessary to establish recovery and healing.

Co-occurring disorders or the coexistence of both a mental health and a substance use disorder are experienced among millions of Americans, requiring specialized treatment [1].

For those individuals who are just seeking out treatment for eating disorders and/or treatment for an addiction, what are the main differences in treatment approaches?

Overview of Eating Disorder Treatment

One of the primary concerns about eating disorders are the pathological eating habits associated with psychiatric illnesses, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. When eating habits are abnormal, a person’s overall well-being can be severely compromised.

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Restricting overall food intake, binging, purging, overexercising and more are dangerous behaviors that are influenced by a variety of complex factors. Many individuals who struggle with eating disorders suffer from medical and psychiatric complications that often need specialized interventions.

A main component and goal of eating disorder treatment is to normalize eating behaviors to help establish stability for a person’s health and overall wellness.

Part of an eating disorder treatment team includes a registered dietitian, who oversees medical nutrition therapy for eating disorder recovery.

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Other treatment approaches include psychotherapy, medication management, medical care, and other treatment modalities that are individualized to a person’s recovery plan. For individuals who have lost a significant amount of weight while actively engaging in their eating disorder, weight restoration may also be part of the eating disorder recovery process.

Eating disorder treatment also aims to help a person in recovery develop an effective skill set for coping rather than falling back on the eating disorder behaviors themselves.

Goals of Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment, on the other hand, works to help an individual stop using their drug of choice and to develop the skills necessary to maintain an addiction free lifestyle. Like eating disorder treatment, addiction treatment ultimately works to support and achieve productive functioning, so that an individual can live their lives to their fullest potential.

Because addiction and substance abuse disorders are also complex issues, treatment must also be multidimensional and individualized to help meet a person where they are.

A person in recovery from addiction may not necessarily have a disruption in food/eating behaviors that are observed in an individual recovery.

Medical nutrition therapy, or nutrition interventions, are not always utilized in addiction treatment, through medical and psychiatric stabilization is a vital component of addiction treatment.

Some of the evidence-based approaches to drug addiction treatment include pharmacotherapies and behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, 12-step facilitation therapy, family behavior therapy, and behavioral therapies primarily for adolescents [2].

12-step facilitation therapy is particularly helpful for a wide range of addiction, including substances, alcohol, sex, gambling and more.

This form of therapy is an active engagement strategy designed to increase the likelihood of addict becoming affiliated and involved with 12-step groups as a means of promoting abstinence [3].

Many aspects of addiction treatment may involve a period of detoxification under medical supervision prior to involving participants in any form of behavioral therapy.

Finding Recovery and Healing

Both eating disorder and addiction treatment have progressed with research to bring more evidenced-based care to treatment models and approaches.

Whether you may be struggling with an eating disorder, an addiction, or both, it is important to connect to the treatment that is most appropriate for you.

In the case that you may be dealing with a co-occurring eating disorder and addiction, it is important to seek out treatment that addresses these conditions simultaneously.

Woman struggling with body imageWork with an eating disorder or addiction specialist to determine what is the best course of treatment to address your individualized needs.

Many specialists can also help recommend a level of care that may be most therapeutic for your needs. Some treatment recommendations could be inpatient, residential, intensive outpatient, etc.

Above all, know that you are not alone in your recovery journey, and healing is possible no matter what your road has been with addiction or an eating disorder. Connect with help today.

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing. As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Co-Occurring Disorders”, https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/co-occurring Accessed 7 June 2017
[2]: National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Behavioral Therapies”, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies Accessed 7 June 2017
[3]: National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide”, 12-Step Facilitation Therapy https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-4 Accessed 7 June 2017

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 September 11, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 11, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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