Providing Holistic Care for Eating Disorders & Co-Occurring Stimulant Addiction

by Marissa Hatcher, MSW, CADC, Primary Family Therapist, Timberline Knolls

Living with an eating disorder can have a significant impact on a woman’s health and happiness. But if she is struggling with stimulant abuse in addition to an eating disorder, the overlapping symptoms can be devastating.


The Journal Neuropsychiatry says that up to half of all individuals who have an eating disorder struggle with substance abuse. Stimulants in particular are often a drug of choice for many women who are struggling with disordered eating behaviors because they can cause a person to lose their appetite and drop a significant amount of weight. This side effect can be appealing for a woman who already has unhealthy concerns about her appearance or tries to cope with difficult emotions by controlling her weight.


The Journal Eating Disorders reports that cocaine and amphetamines are some of the most common drugs of abuse among adults who are suffering from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa because they can cause weight loss. But illegal drugs aren’t the only stimulants that are abused. The Journal of American College Health found that college-aged women are at an elevated risk for abusing stimulants used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to try to lose weight.


When a woman has developed an eating disorder that co-occurs with a stimulant addiction, it is crucial to treat both disorders so that she receives care that addresses all the symptoms she is experiencing. Taking a comprehensive approach to her care ensures that you set the groundwork for her to achieve successful recovery that lasts well beyond her time in treatment.


Identifying whether a woman who has an eating disorder is also suffering from a stimulant addiction will allow you to determine the type and level of care that will benefit her the most. This begins with the assessment process by asking questions related to both substance use and eating disorder signs and symptoms.


Depending on the nature and severity of her situation, holistic treatment for a dual diagnosis may begin with detoxification so that she can fully engage in the interventions outlined in her personalized treatment plan. In some cases, a woman may also benefit from a trauma-informed approach that gets to the root of any traumatic experiences that may have led to disordered eating behaviors or substance use.


A treatment approach that addresses all the challenges she is facing will prepare her for any future challenges she may encounter. And, with the appropriate continuing care plan, she’ll have the resources she needs to stay on the path to lasting recovery.

TK Contributor: Marissa is a primary and family therapist at Timberline Knolls. She also served as the Addictions Program Coordinator facilitating psycho-educational group therapy and completing substance use assessments. Marissa is a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) Provider, receiving her certification in 2016. Prior to joining Timberline Knolls, Marissa worked in outpatient substance treatment with clients who were reentering the community from incarceration. Marissa received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a minor in Communications and her Master’s Degree in Social Work specializing in Substance Counseling from Aurora University.

*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp™  Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*


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