Similarities between the two problems

Disordered eating and substance misuse share many similarities which makes it possible for the problems to appear together, to be a means to a similar end, and which can make it difficult to break free from them.  The chart below shows the ways the problems can serve very similar purposes.


Substance Misuse

Disordered Eating

Lose weight

A young woman may use substances to help lose weight, or may lose her appetite because of substance use

A young woman may purge, restrict their food intake, over-exercise in order to meet the requirements of anorexia/bulimia

Help deal with memories /trauma/oppression/violence

Feelings numbed by substance misuse

Euphoric sensations that substance use creates

Feelings numbed by binging/purging/not eating

Focus and distract self by thinking about or avoiding the above

Be social/belong

Feel more outgoing when under the influence, fit in, sense of community

As a way to meet social expectations of thinness

Have more energy

Get much more done; stay awake for longer periods of time (with stimulant use) [1]

Feeling high as a result of not eating, more time in day if not eating to do other things


Use substances in an attempt to be the perfect daughter/young women, have more energy to get all demands of day done, schoolwork, sports

Be thin /perfect girl/ perfect daughter. Meet parental, societal expectations regarding weight and appearance

Distraction from feelings; a way to self soothe

Get intoxicated, forget for a while/numb out

Purge/ restrict eating keeps focus on food/body and away from feelings


Use and problems are momentarily gone


Purge and problems are momentarily gone, focus on food/body no time to focus on other things

Sense of control

Able to control feelings, memories

Control food intake, body weight

Alleviates Guilt

Make you feel better

Temporary distraction

Make you feel better

Temporary distraction


Getting, buying, using, e.g. setting up to use heroin

Ritualized eating patterns, e.g. purchasing food for a binge

Intense Focus

Preoccupation with getting drugs and alcohol, and using

Focus on avoiding food, or purchasing food/binging, getting rid of calories

[1] There is a specific connection of stimulant use to disordered eating practice.  For example, people do not tend to use alcohol as a way to control weight.  Cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy, speed, dexedrine, are the riskier drugs in this regard. And of course there is heroin.