Eating Disorder Facts:
Addiction or not?

Are eating disorders an addiction? There are many eating disorder facts to consider when thinking about this question. Is having an eating disorder really that different from having an addiction to drugs or alcohol?

As a society, we still have a hard time empathizing with drug addicts and alcoholics. Many people still believe that it’s just a matter of will power. If you don’t want to drink or do drugs, just stop. How hard could that possibly be? I think even more difficult for people is the idea that people with eating disorders can’t ‘just eat’ or ‘just stop over eating’ or ‘just stop throwing up.’ Like any addiction, there is a lot more to eating disorders than will power. If it were that simple, do you really think people would have eating disorders? If all it took were telling yourself that you need to eat or that you need to stop drinking and doing drugs, would people be dying from these issues? Wouldn’t everyone with an eating disorder or any kind of addiction just stop engaging in these behaviors? The very obvious answer is that it’s not just about will power. There are many different types of eating disorders, and not one of them can be stopped using will power alone.

Until recently, I probably would have said that without a doubt, eating disorders are not an addiction. I would have been in the majority of people who just don’t understand eating disorders and who think it’s as easy as just stopping these behaviors. Within the past few years, however, I have met and become close with people who suffer from an eating disorder. After watching what this can do to a person, I knew that I needed to have more eating disorder facts in order to really understand what was going on. Seeing someone who is actively dealing with an eating disorder is one of the most horrible things I have ever seen. Watching someone literally starve themselves is horrible. Watching someone continue to binge and purge, knowing that it’s destroying their heart and other organs in their body, is painful. It’s horrible to see anyone slowly kill themselves when I know that recovery is possible. Recovery from drug and alcohol abuse is possible, and eating disorder recovery is possible. Unfortunately, not everyone finds their way to recovery.

In the people I know who are actively engaging in eating disorders, I see so many parallels to drug addiction and alcoholism. I see the denial and the justification. I see continued self-destruction, even when recovery is desired. I see the misconceptions of the people around them, not understanding why they can’t just ‘get better.’ Even people who have a lot of eating disorder facts can’t seem to understand why the eating disorder can’t be controlled. Like many things in life, I think it’s really hard to understand what the experience of having an eating disorder is like without actually experiencing it for yourself. I can’t say that I fully understand what it’s like to have an eating disorder, but seeing what they can do to people has certainly made me understand that it’s not as simple as just stopping.

The causes of eating disorders are very individualized, but they are often very similar to the causes of drug addiction and alcoholism. There are so many causes of both of these issues and it’s very individualized, but many people start using drugs or alcohol for similar reasons. Low self-esteem, peer pressure, media glorification, some sort of abuse, and attempting to deal with some other sort of mental illness are just a few of the reasons people start using and become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Everything on this list can be said to influence eating disorders as well.

The truth is, I don’t know if an eating disorder is an addiction or not, or if it should be considered an addiction. What I do know is that it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that we realize how complex eating disorders are and how difficult treatment and recovery can be. Eating disorder recovery is possible, though, and having eating disorder facts can be useful when trying to help yourself or someone else.

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