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Food for Thought: Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2003
83 pages
This extensive analysis of the current state of knowledge on the link between eating disorders and substance abuse is based on the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse's (CASA's) review of national datasets and nearly 500 articles, books, and reports from the most current scientific literature available.
The analysis found that up to 50 percent of individuals with an eating disorder abuse alcohol or illicit drugs, compared to approximately 9 percent in the general population. Up to 35 percent of alcohol or illicit drug abusers have an eating disorder, compared to up to 3 percent in the general population. Many individuals who engage in unhealthy weight-control behaviors or have full-blown eating disorders use or abuse substances such as caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and over-the-counter medications such as appetite suppressants, diuretics, laxatives, and emetics. The adverse effects of eating disorders are often severe, ranging from hair loss, tooth decay, and osteoporosis to heart failure and a destabilization of virtually all body systems; severe cases may be fatal. To help prevent eating disorders and substance abuse in their children, parents should model and promote healthy, positive, and reasonable messages about eating and exercise, as well as consistent messages about the dangers of substance use. Schools should give high priority to educating parents, teachers, administrators, and coaches to recognize the relationship of eating disorders and substance abuse and intervene quickly and effectively. The public health community should educate patients and the public about nutrition and the negative health effects of eating disorders and substance abuse. Suggestions are also offered for positive action by the advertising, marketing, and entertainment industries; policymakers; and researchers. Chapter tables and notes and 343 references