Eating Disorders Associated with Other Addictions

Those who are diagnosed with a mental disorder, such as the eating disorders bulimia or anorexia nervosa, are often found to have a coexisting additional mental disorder. These disorders may include depression or anxiety.

The co morbidity of eating disorders with other mental health problems creates a challenge for those treating individuals with eating disorders. When an individual is admitted to a treatment center or hospital for an eating disorder, they may not be screened for additional disorders. To effectively treat the patient, information about co morbid disorders must be included in treatment strategies.

A new study conducted by researchers at Penn State College of Medicine provides evidence that when a person meets criteria for binge eating disorder, they have an increased risk for other addictive disorders.

The study, conducted with animal models, provides new information that may help in treating the different aspects of eating disorders. Binge eating disorder is characterized by the consumption of a large amount of high-calorie food and drinks in a relatively short period of time. Individuals diagnosed with the disorder say that they feel a loss of control in their binge eating.

Binge eating disorders differs from bulimia nervosa, in that there is no cycle of purging with binge eating disorders. Those with bulimia will engage in self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives to prevent the absorption of calories.

The researchers examined a connection between binging on high-calorie, fatty food and the risk of developing an addiction to cocaine. In order to assess the level of the risk, rats were divided into four groups. One ate normal rat food, the second had unlimited access to fat, the third had one hour each day of access to fat and the fourth were given access to fat for one hour on three days per week. The rats were all given continuous opportunity to eat normal rat food and drink water.

The rats were given tasks by the researchers that were optional. The reward in the tasks was cocaine, and the rats were monitored for their attempts to obtain cocaine. The group of rats that had the most restriction when it came to obtaining fats was more likely to seek out cocaine. They were also more likely to try to get it after the researchers had removed it.

Patricia Sue Grigson, Ph.D., lead author of the study, explained that the probability that the rats developed a cocaine addiction was increased to about 50 percent in rats that had been allowed to eat unlimited amounts of fat.

The research team at Penn State hopes that the information gained by the study will be helpful in detecting effective treatment options for those with addiction problems, including not only eating disorders but also substance abuse problems.

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