Eating Disorders and Chemical Dependency - EDCD

The link between eating disorders and chemical dependency was clearly established back in the 1990s, when Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) published the first comprehensive examination of the link between chemical dependency and eating disorders. The results of the CASA study indicated that almost fifty percent of individuals suffering from eating disorders also abuse alcohol or drugs, compared to less than ten percent of the general population.

Medical Classification

The medical classification of EDCD (Eating Disorders & Chemical Dependency) is an example of a "co-occurring" or "comorbid" disorder, where an individual suffers simultaneously from both a psychiatric disorder (like an eating disorder) and a substance abuse problem.


The CASA report identified several behavioral patterns that were shared by those who suffered from eating disorders as well as chemical dependency.

A partial listing from the report is below:

  • Low self image/self esteem, impulsiveness, anxiety, depression
  • Obsessive or compulsive behavior
  • Dysfunctional family parenting environment
  • Low parental monitoring as a child
  • Unhealthy influence from peers or social environment
  • History of sexual or physical abuse
  • Social isolation or awkwardness
  • High stress (real or perceived)
  • Predisposed to chronic diseases
  • Highly susceptible to advertising or media

Often Overlooked or Misdiagnosed

Family, friends, and even medical professionals often overlook eating disorders. We are a society that is always being told by the media that you can never be too thin. Those who suffer from bulimia may actually receive praise from unaware family and friends who fail to recognize the eating disorder and praise what is actually horribly unhealthy behavior. On the other end of the scale, our nation is facing its first widespread obesity epidemic for both children and adults. Family and friends may tend to overlook or minimize the potential health risks from overeating or binge eating because they are overweight or have become accustomed to seeing so many people who are overweight in their daily lives.

Elevated Risk

As dangerous as eating disorders are, when they are combined with substance abuse as in EDCD, the chances of experiencing serious illness or death skyrocket. A person suffering from an eating disorder weakens their body physically and subsequently lowers their immunity to disease. When they tax their bodies further by adding a chemical dependency to the equation, they wind up increasing their risk factors for contracting diseases exponentially.

Prior to the CASA report, it was very rare to find any rehab or treatment facility that specialized in EDCD. If you could find a facility in the past that did treat both, they would still treat each separately. Recent research has shown that treating those suffering from eating disorders and chemical dependency simultaneously is much more effective.


Contact the National Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Information Center (NASAIC) anytime toll-free at (800) 784-6776 or through our online form, and we will recommend the leading drug and alcohol rehab centers for you or your loved one.