Medication Management for Co-Occurring Disorders

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There is no magic pill for eating disorder recovery. However, many individuals with eating disorders often exhibit co-occurring disorders, such as addiction, anxiety, bipolar, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Often, the symptoms that come with this dual diagnosis can contribute to the existence of the eating disorder itself.

Therefore, managing a co-occurring disorder, sometimes through medication, can make all the difference in moving toward recovery.

An Ally in Battle

One’s experiences with a co-occurring disorder often lead them to use an eating disorder as an unhealthy coping mechanism. For example, someone who is experiencing anxiety may use food as a way to comfort themselves or gain a sense of control.

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As mentioned above, there is no medication leading to miraculous recovery from an eating disorder. Medication can, however, assist in treating one’s anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.

Imagine you are in battle, with your eating disorder attacking from one side and your co-occurring disorder from the other. Defeating both alone may seem impossible. However, medication can be your ally, controlling one enemy so that you can focus all of your energy on overcoming the other.

Medication Refusal in Eating Disorder Recovery

A lot of those struggling to overcome an eating disorder refuse medication, often for reasons related to the psychology of ED. For some, anything taken orally may feel like food, initiating the same overwhelming shame and guilt as eating.

Additionally, some patients find that their ED has become a “false friend” and don’t want to engage in anything that may lead to them losing this relationship. Patients are also used to living in a constant state of deprivation and find it second-nature to deny themselves of anything that may lead to wellness and health [1].

Benefits of Medication Management

Refusing medication when a doctor has deemed it medically necessary can lead to negative repercussions.

As discussed above, medication can assist in lessening the symptoms of a co-occurring disorder, making the eating disorder easier to tackle. Without medication, the vicious cycle returns wherein the initial symptoms of the co-occurring disorder are back, increasing the likelihood of the eating disorder returning as well.

Woman in therapyShould one use their medication improperly, or stop usage entirely, the risk of relapsing back into disordered eating behaviors is high.

If you’re struggling with managing your dual diagnosis or taking your medication, it is important to remember the potential benefit using prescribed medications may have on your recovery. Experiencing two or more disorders can be overwhelming and often feel insurmountable.

However, tackling one can be the solution to working on others. Medication can quiet one disorder, providing the clarity and headspace to focus on exploring and recovering from the other.

As always, please remember that medication is not meant to be a cure-all. There is no guarantee that medication will assist you with either disorder. As such, make sure to keep in contact with your doctor and your treatment team about the role medication is playing in your recovery.


Image of Margot Rittenhouse.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.


[1]: Lester, R. (2014). Health as moral failing: medication restriction among women with eating disorders. Anthropology and Medicine, 21:2, 241-250.

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 April 23, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
April 23, 2017.
Published on