Use of Medication in Eating Disorder Recovery: Long Term Effects

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Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Director of Content and Social Media at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

Eating disorders are complex psychiatric illnesses with brain-based influences. More simply described, research has shown that there are many different factors that can possibly influence the development of an eating disorder, ranging from the combination of biological, environmental, psychosocial and more.

Because eating disorders can arise from varying circumstances and factors, treatment approaches must be comprehensive in order to help address individual needs for the eating disorder sufferer. For many people in recovery from an eating disorder, medication management is an important aspect of treatment.

The Role of Medication in Eating Disorder Recovery

Medication can help address the many biological factors that may be associated with an eating disorder, such as neurochemical and hormonal imbalances. It is also not uncommon for individuals with eating disorders to have another co-occurring mental illness present alongside the eating disorder.

This might include an anxiety disorder, such as social anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder, or depression. Medications can be a therapeutic part of treatment and recovery, particularly if address any underlying biological influences that may be connected to the eating disorder.

Some of the common medications prescribed and used for eating disorder sufferers include but are not limited to antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic drugs. The type of drug that might be appropriate for a patient depends largely on their individual needs and concerns, signs and symptoms they are experiencing, concurrent medical conditions, family history, and more. The decision of incorporating medication in eating disorder treatment should be advised by qualified medical health professionals specialized in the care of eating disorder recovery.

Long Term Use of Medication

For some individuals, the prospect of needing to take medication regularly can be a daunting thing. In some instances, medication management may be a temporary intervention, while for others, medication might be prescribed as part of long-term treatment. Many recommended medications are well studied and regulated by the FDA, though nothing should be taken without the recommendation of a specialized physician. Especially with long term use of medications, like antipsychotic drugs, regular evaluations should occur to assess effectiveness of the prescription and adjust for dosages as needed.

When considering taking a medication, it is important to understand and be aware of potential side effects that might result from drug use. Every medication results in side effects, such potentially adverse and uncomfortable. However, when it comes to eating disorder treatment, it is necessary to weight the pros and cons of the medication and prioritize what is necessary for recovery. Medication management coupled with psychotherapy often produces tremendous benefits for a person recovering from an eating disorder, and there is a general understanding that the potential benefits outweigh the risks involved with medication use.

Eating Disorders Are Chronic Illnesses

Woman sitting on floorBecause eating disorders are chronic illnesses, medication may very well be necessary for long periods of time in order to see the full effects. Again, these are decisions that should be discussed in depth with treating clinicians, including a specialized psychiatrist, physician, psychotherapist and counselor. There is often a trial period where medications are monitored more frequently to adjust for correct dosing and combinations. Before considering medication use, be sure to discuss all potential side effects and adverse reactions with health professional involved.

Other aspects to consider with long term medication use include food and drug interactions. Medications that are taken on a consistent basis should be cross checked with other drugs that are also used and even potential foods that can decrease the effectiveness of a medication.

Medications are typically prescribed alongside psychotherapy and integrated with other forms of treatment for long-term recovery. Work with your treatment team to determine the most effective course of action for your individual needs. It is also important to stay consistent with follow up visits and medication use in order to maximize the benefits that can result from medication use. Be sure to talk with your doctor to understand the role of medication use in your recovery from an eating disorder.

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How has medication therapy helped improve your recovery efforts from an eating disorder?

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: 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, Crystal serves as the Special Projects Coordinator for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

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/AH and nutrition private practice.

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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 14, 2016
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