How to Talk to Your Loved one About Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

It can be hard when you suspect that someone you care about has an eating disorder, especially if you think they may also be dealing with some kind of drug or alcohol addiction. The two disorders not only present and act in very similar ways, but they are also frequently co-occurring. If these two disorders occur concurrently in someone it is called a kind of dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis make treatment a little tricky because it isn’t an option to only treat one disease at a time. In fact, you have to treat the two disorders at the same time for any hope of successful recovery. The best place to treat these co-occurring disorders is at a Florida recovery center. Drug programs in Florida should offer the kind of mental health rehab that a patient with dual diagnosis will need to be able to deal with both their drug or alcohol addiction as well as their co-existing eating disorder.


Warning Signs and Symptoms that Might Point to Someone Suffering From an Eating Disorder

  • Dramatic changes in their weight due to excessive overeating or lack of eating
  • Preoccupation with their weight, worrying about gaining weight constantly
  • Obsessive calorie counting
  • Continuous dieting
  • Frequent overeating in great quantity in a short amount of time, otherwise known as binging
  • Makes their way to the bathroom after most meals.
  • They may slowly become very picky about food, they may become unwilling to eat whole categories of food like carbohydrates
  • They may make excuses as to why they can’t eat, won’t be able to make social functions including a meal, or aren’t hungry
  • They may begin to exhibit signs of malnutrition
  • Little interest in eating in public
  • Secludes themselves in order to binge,purge,or get away from judgement
  • If the person is old enough to have gone through puberty, a woman’s loss of their period may be a sign of an eating disorder
  • They may develop ritualistic habits around food.
  • They may cook whole meals for other people without taking part in consuming them


The Physical Side Effects of Eating Disorders

  • Stomach upset including cramps and other unidentifiable gastrointestinal complications like acid reflux, ulcers, and more.
  • Change in the person’s menstrual cycle
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Dry and brittle nails
  • Inability to regulate body temperature, a constant feeling of being cold
  • Vertigo
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dry skin
  • Dental complications including cavities, enamel erosion, and sensitivity
  • Anemia
  • Low thyroid
  • Low hormone levels
  • Low blood cell count
  • Slower heart rate
  • Thinning of their hair
  • Discoloration of teeth due to purging
  • Musculoskeletal consequences such as muscle weakness
  • Finding that wounds are slower to heal
  • Impaired immune system function


How You Can Talk to Someone You Love About Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

Educate yourself: It is important to be aware when going into this kind of conversation that much of what society says about eating disorders is misguided and often not based in reality and consequently you should reexamine your understandings of the disease, the way it functions in conjunction to substance abuse, and the side effects the two can cause in order to be sure that the conversation with your loved one is productive and caring in nature.


Prepare for the conversation before you start it: Educating yourself about every aspect of eating disorders and substance disorder  is a huge first step in preparing yourself for the conversation you are about to engage in with a loved one who may end up being, likely due to societal stigma, somewhat defensive and avoidant. Another way to prepare yourself besides learning everything you can is to actually write down what you want to say to the person you care about. Having a heavy conversation can be intimidating anyway, without the baggage that comes with suggesting to a friend that they might not only be addicted to a substance of some kind, be it legal or illicit in nature, and also that you are concerned that they may have an eating disorder, but there are ways to take some of the weight off of the conversation.

Sitting down to write out your thoughts will be sure that in the moment you aren’t struggling for the words you so desperately need to effectively explain to your friend or loved one why you are concerned. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck when something is right in the back of your mind. You may even want to practice saying what you need to say into a mirror. Some people find that this helps a lot to be sure their tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language all say just what they want to say.


Make sure your conversation is in a private and neutral place: Deciding on a time and a place where you and the person you care about can safely sit down to talk with about your concerns is a vital part of successfully delivering your message of support and concern to them. You need the person struggling with eating and addiction to believe that they can trust you. This is hard to do if the location of your talk is highly populated and if there is no where to talk that is quiet and private. Be sure the location you choose is neutral as well. Though you do not mean to, a vulnerable person who is suffering from an eating disorder and or a drug and alcohol addiction is feeling shame, guilt, and worthlessness. Trying to have this conversation in your space, or their space can make the conversation feel confrontational, and may make your friend or loved one feel defensive and even cagey.

Be honest and clear in your message: Do not belabor your points. When you are speaking to your friend about eating disorders and substance abuse, make sure your message comes through in honesty and with clarity. Do not alter the facts when explaining your concerns to them. Do not offer an uneducated medical opinion as if it is fact. Remember that embellishing the facts for impact or intimidation is manipulative and not an acceptable way to treat anyone, especially if they are as vulnerable as these two disorders can cause someone to be. Stick to the facts and show compassion and respect for your loved one by being clear and honest in your thoughts. Remember that this is about them, and not you.


Focus on your own insights that you yourself have observed in the person rather than the gossip of others: When a community finds that one of it’s beloved members suffers from not  only an eating disorder but also chemical dependency, it is difficult perhaps for the group to not talk about it among themselves while leaving the member of the community in mind apart from the conversation. This sort of gossiping can be, not only ostracizing to the sufferer of the diseases but also it can deepen the very disorders you want to speak with them about. Both eating disorders and substance use disorders are heavily fuled by a sense of loneliness and inadequacy. Talk with your loved one about your concerns, not the concerns of others revealed through speculation and gossip.


Don’t go beyond the facts: Speaking to one of the people you love about a possible eating disorder it is best to stick to the facts you know instead of speculating or trying to diagnose the origin or catalyst for the disorder. Instead explain in a clear, concise, and compassionate way the factual realities that have caused your concerns. This is a much more successful line of conversation because it is substantially less likely to make  the person suffering from the disorder defensive or afraid.


Encourage Your Friend or Loved One To Seek Treatment

Eating disorders often appear during a person’s adolescent years or when they are a young adult. Though it is often thought that women are the only ones who suffer from eating disorders, any gendered person can suffer from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are dangerous and with substance abuse are even more likely to be fatal. Treatment is vital and it is quite literally a life or death situation.

A person cannot successfully trek down the path to recovery of either drug and alcohol addiction or an eating disorder when occurring concurrently, if they try to only treat one disorder at a time.

The most important way you can support your friend is by helping them research and find a great recovery program that can address both their medical health and their mental health, specifically the type of eating disorder from which they suffer, all at once. Not every rehab program has the capacity to treat eating disorders alongside their drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

FHE Health has treatment specialized for individuals with eating disorders and drug or alcohol addiction. A good source of treatment that can effectively treat both disorders is not always easy to find, but at FHE focus is on making sure each patient has the tools they need to build a solid foundation for active recovery and that includes dual diagnosis like eating disorders.  Call FHE today and help your friend or loved one find what they need for recovery.


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