There is a growing amount of evidence that supports a theory of similarity between eating disorders and addiction problems. The American Society of Addiction Medicine offers a broader definition of addiction to include things such as addictions to food (“process addictions”).

Our brains release chemicals that make us feel good when we engage in certain behaviors. Traditionally these ‘reward centers’ are triggered by exercise, receiving a compliment, falling in love, etc. However, we can artificially activate these feelings through the use of drugs, alcohol, or by abusing food.

Normally, the brain is stimulated to reward through pleasant activities. Unfortunately, this reaction in the brain can also be elicited through drugs of all kinds, alcohol, and the abuse of food. Because the reaction our brain gives us feels so good and helps us forget our negative emotions, we become addicted to the substance that creates this stimulation.

When we continue in this fashion of artificially stimulating our brain’s reward center, it stops functioning normally. Abusing a substance, in any form, can provide temporary feelings of relief or happiness – but the long-term consequences are damaging. Individuals with an addiction (drugs, alcoholism, eating disorder, etc.) may be more prone to extremes, rashness, anxiety, and high levels of stress. These conditions may escalate the required amount of stimulus in order to achieve the same amount of ‘zen’.

Using these substances to calm down, however, only serve to create dependency and addiction. Once an addiction is there, it becomes more difficult to overcome. If an individual relies on the relief that comes from their addiction, their ability to give it up becomes significantly more difficult. Even when a person knows that their addiction is harming – and even killing them – they can find it almost impossible to quit. This is how reliant our brains become on even a false sense of comfort and stability.

It is important to stop addictive behaviors, and it is also beneficial to identify root causes of the disorder. Self-exploration can open you up to a lot of pain, and it may be very difficult to face certain issues, but doing so will lead to a more balanced, healthy, and peaceful life – completely free from any reliance on any substance. Looking for relief from substances, rather than from inside yourself only temporarily helps. It’s like using a band-aid on a deep wound that needs stitches. While you may think it’s helping, you can never develop a full sense of peace and control while being trapped in addiction.

There are many similarities between a drug/alcohol addiction and an eating disorder, and they often both exist in the same person. Because of this, it is important that when seeking help, you find a treatment plan that addresses both. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder or an addiction, know that there is hope for a full recovery. You can restore a lasting sense of peace and well-being, free from any substance.

Please visit the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) for more information, or call the toll-free helpline at 1-866-NEDIC-20 (1-866-633-4220).