Anorexia Symptoms and Addiction – Anorexia nervosa, or just anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by chronic low weight, a desire to be thinner, a fear of gaining weight, and an aversion to food. Furthermore, many people living with anorexia perceive themselves as fat even when they are extremely thin. Anorexia nervosa boasts the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric diagnosis.
Warning signs of anorexia may be difficult to spot because individuals living with anorexia often invest great effort to conceal their thinness, harmful eating habits, and physical problems in general. Because of this, anorexia often flies under the radar until serious medical intervention is necessary.
There are numerous warning signs that may indicate someone is suffering from anorexia nervosa. They include:
- Sudden, severe weight loss
- Skipping meals, fasting, or avoiding meals by making excuses
- Lying about eating, the amount of food eaten or weight loss incurred
- Adopting a severely restricted diet of a few low fat, low calorie “safe” foods
- Emergence of eating rituals such as chopping food into small pieces or chewing food excessively then spitting it out
- Preparing fancy meals for others then refusing to eat
- Obsessive weight monitoring
- Frequent scanning for bodily flaws in a mirror
- Distorted perceptions of body image (criticizing their self for being fat even while underweight)
- Eating only in secret, never publicly or in the company of others
- Wearing loose-fitting clothes to mask thinning stature
- Menstrual cessation or irregularity
- Exercising excessively to cut more weight
- Preoccupation with diet that interrupts everyday activity
- Fatigue from malnourishment
Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia symptoms can be divided into three categories: mental, behavioral and physical. No single person will exhibit all possible symptoms of anorexia at once. Still, if you recognize at least a few of the following symptoms in yourself or a loved one, you should seek help to avoid serious complications.
Mental Anorexia Symptoms
Anorexia is a mental health disorder – the main mental symptoms of anorexia involve negative self-image, deep fear of weight gain, and abstinence from eating. Eating disorders like anorexia generally cause the sufferer to think constantly about food, sacrificing many hours contemplating their next meal.
Lacking vital nutrients may cause the individual to become emotionally volatile and fragile. An individual living with anorexia may have intense bouts of shame, sadness, irritability, anxiety, and hopelessness.
Additionally, the self-destructive behaviors characteristic of anorexia are permitted and encouraged by the psychological rationalizations that underpin them. As such, loved ones may find it difficult to convince the person struggling with the condition that they need to accept help.
Behavioral Anorexia Symptoms
Anorexia nervosa usually manifests a multitude of behaviors considered abnormal and unhealthy. Refusing to partake in meals is a common behavior that corresponds to a fear of gaining weight. Likewise, to reduce weight, a person living with anorexia may exercise compulsively, only stopping when exhausted.
It isn’t uncommon for a person living with anorexia to amass a small stockpile of diet pills and herbal supplements conducive to weight loss. Abuse of such substances carries with it secondary risks of addiction, as well as the danger of overdose, given the substance. Moreover, when a meal is unavoidable, a person with anorexia may engage in a “purge,” regurgitating food or consuming laxatives to prevent weight gain.
Physical Anorexia Symptoms
As the mental and behavioral symptoms associated with anorexia take their toll on the body and thus produce a host of physical symptoms in their wake, all of which cyclically reinforce one another. These physical symptoms typically worsen as the eating disorder progresses but pose significant threats at any stage nonetheless.
Physical symptoms of anorexia include the following:
- Emaciation (being abnormally thin)
- Dizziness or fainting
- Bluing of fingers due to malnutrition
- Feeling cold
- Dry skin
- Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances
- Brittle hair and nails, thinning or loss of hair
- Swelling of hands and feet
- Lanugo (areas of soft, downy hair caused by malnutrition)
- Menstrual cessation or irregularity
- Cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat)
- Heart damage
Anorexia, Addiction, and Treatment
Drug and alcohol abuse commonly co-exist alongside eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. In addition to self-medicating for negative thoughts and feelings, some drugs and alcohol offer other “benefits” that may appeal to those with these conditions.
For example, drugs such as amphetamines suppress appetite, and regular use can quickly result in weight loss. Also because anorexia is a compulsive disorder based primarily on fear, anxiety, and control, substances that can reduce anxiety, such as benzodiazepines and alcohol may be enticing to some.
In a groundbreaking study, researchers discovered that those who experienced eating disorders were as much as five times as likely to misuse alcohol and drugs when compared to others. Also, more than one-third of those who abused drugs or alcohol also suffered from eating disorders, compared to 3% of the general population.
Eating disorders and drug abuse and two overlapping mental health conditions that can only be effectively treated simultaneously. Treating addiction alone does not solve the underlying problems that drive the eating disorder, and vice versa.
Fortunately, our center is equipped to treat all forms of mental illness, including anorexia, in addition to substance abuse. We offer both inpatient and intensive outpatient formats, which include behavioral therapies, individual and group therapy, family counseling, nutritional support,12-step meeting participation, and ancillary services such as yoga, medication, and art therapy.