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August 15, 2017

The Use of Medication in the Treatment of Eating Disorders

Nurse Meeting With Teenage Girl In Modern Hospital

Contributor: Marge Crotty, Director of Nursing at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.

Modern medicine is responsible for preventing or curing many illnesses in today’s world. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine, no preventative measure, no medication or cure for an eating disorder.

Those working in the field desperately wish there was a “magic pill,” but there isn’t.

Fortunately, when women and girls enter treatment, we are fully prepared and well-equipped to help them cope with adjunctive physical and psychological issues so they can begin their journey of recovery.

Co-occurring Disorders

Rarely, if ever, does a person come into treatment with a singular diagnosis of anorexia or bulimia. The most common co-occurring disorders are depression or anxiety, but they can also present with anything from obsessive compulsive disorder to borderline personality disorder.

At admission, the areas of greatest concern are an assessment of symptoms, eating disorder behaviors and medical stability. Due to very common dehydration in those with anorexia or bulimia, it is critical to stabilize electrolyte levels and overall medical status.

Often, residents may need to have hospital hydration through IV fluids or treated with supplements to regain electrolyte balance. Labs may continue to be drawn throughout a resident’s stay to ensure she remains stable.

Our Dietitian Staff is an integral member of the treatment team and are highly qualified to assess dietary needs and provide nutrition therapy.

Frequently residents are placed on a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) to deal with depression. In the case of anxiety or impulse control, anti-anxiety meds are ordered by physicians to assist in supporting the resident.

Controlled Substances

Regardless of what a resident might be dealing with, control substances, meaning any medication that is habit-forming, are rarely ordered. Benzodiazepines or opiate-based drugs are carefully assessed by the physician to determine continuation or engaging in a tapering regime.

Man In Deep ThoughtAll residents are notified before admission and agree to the possible discontinuation of controlled medications. Benzos, along with alcohol, must be very carefully monitored during the tapering process. Abrupt discontinuation of either of these can cause seizures, delirium tremors in the case of alcohol, and even death.

Many residents enter care with an ongoing addiction to stimulants, reporting they need the stimulant medications due to hyperactivity disorder. After a complete history is taken and a psychological evaluation is completed, a physician can determine the validity of need, then take the appropriate steps to address the addiction.

With the change of environment and understandable turmoil surrounding confronting their issues, sleep problems are not uncommon. A doctor may prescribe a sleeping aid medication for a limited time frame until the resident can retain a normalized sleep pattern.

For younger residents, a supplement such as melatonin may be recommended or an over-the-counter sleep aid such as Benadryl.

There is no “magic pill” to treat eating disorders.

However, we do have a successful treatment approach incorporating both psychological and medical interventions tailored to the individual needs of every resident to give her the best chance for a complete recovery.

Marge CrottyAbout the author: As Director of Nursing at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, Marge provides leadership, vision, direction and supervision to those who interact with the residents 24 hours a day. She works closely with the entire treatment team to move each woman or girl toward recovery from her disorder or addiction.

Marge has 30 years of practical and managerial experience in teen and adult psychiatric nursing. Prior to Timberline Knolls, she served as manager of clinical operations for the Department of Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Services at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Illinois. She was responsible for the planning, management, implementation and evaluation of operations of a 46-bed psychiatric unit.


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 August 15, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 15, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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