Currently, the connection between orthorexia and substance use disorders remains unclear. However, it’s crucial that these conditions are assessed and treated carefully.

About 8 million people in the U.S. have two or more mental health diagnoses, including orthorexia and substance use disorder. These conditions are called co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders often produce more intense symptoms than any condition alone and are more complicated to treat. Fortunately, professional mental health care can help alleviate the symptoms of co-occurring conditions and allow people to enter into recovery.

Effects of Drug Abuse on Orthorexia

Substance abuse and orthorexia — a condition marked by an excessive desire to consume only healthy foods and drinks — co-occur occasionally. However, this combination of mental health conditions is relatively rare. When the two disorders do co-occur, the drug and alcohol use could lead to eating changes, or orthorexia could lead to addiction. Both prescribed and illicit substances can affect hunger levels and eating habits. For example, stimulants, like ADHD medications, cocaine and methamphetamine, can decrease appetite, and drugs like marijuana are known to increase appetite and encourage snacking.

Because of the impact drugs have on appetite, it seems possible that orthorexia could emerge as a way to counteract the bodily damage caused by drugs and alcohol. Someone might believe that extreme healthy eating can undo the harm caused by drug or alcohol use.

Does Orthorexia Lead to Drug Abuse?

Can orthorexia lead to drug use? Overall, a person with orthorexia may be less likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs. This connection makes sense because most drugs are not pure, organic or natural products, so people with orthorexia tend to reject them.

There is a flip side, though. Some people will practice orthorexic eating habits to justify indulging in drugs and alcohol. They may practice restrictive eating behaviors during the day so they can use substances at night. Of course, this way of thinking is not rational, but many mental health conditions involve irrational thinking.

Statistics on Orthorexia and Addiction

Since orthorexia is not a widely recognized mental health condition, gathering statistics on the subject can be difficult. Different groups have unique criteria for identifying the disorder. The link between orthorexia and addiction is understood even less.

One study found that as many as 71 percent of college students displayed symptoms of orthorexia, but only about one percent were actually diagnosed with the condition. Other studies show a wide range of prevalence, with rates estimated to be between 6.9 and 57.6 percent. Currently, there is no unified, clear understanding of the pervasiveness of orthorexia.

While the connection between orthorexia and addiction is still unclear, statistics do show a strong link between addiction and eating disorders in general. About 50 percent of all people with eating disorders abuse substances. Additionally, about 35 percent of people who have abused substances have eating disorders.

Treating Orthorexia and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

If you severely restrict your food and are using substances, seeking professional mental health and substance abuse treatment is essential. These co-occurring disorders are too complicated and intertwined to manage alone.

The first step to beginning treatment is undergoing a thorough evaluation from a mental health or addiction professional. The evaluator can officially diagnose these conditions and recommend a course of action aimed at keeping the person healthy and safe during the recovery process.

Treatments for co-occurring conditions are available in inpatient and outpatient settings based on each individual’s needs. Treatment tends to focus on:

  • Stabilizing physical health
  • Improving mental health
  • Learning new coping skills to manage stress
  • Developing communication skills
  • Limiting other sources of stress
  • Boosting community supports

Orthorexia and substance abuse treatment utilizes a variety of therapy and medication options to improve mental and physical well-being.

If you or a loved one lives with co-occurring substance use disorder and orthorexia, treatment can’t wait. Call The Recovery Village today to take the first step toward recovery. When you call, you can speak to a representative who is knowledgeable about co-occurring disorders and the treatment they require.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.” 2013.

Koven, Nancy. “The clinical basis of orthorexia nervosa[…]merging perspectives.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, February 18, 2015. Accessed on March 22, 2019.

National Eating Disorders Association. “Orthorexia.” (n.d.) Accessed on March 7, 2019.

National Eating Disorders Association. “Types of Treatment.” (n.d.) Accessed on March 7, 2019.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Eating Disorders.” February 2016. Accessed on March 7, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” January 2018. Accessed on March 7, 2019.

The Seattle Times. “The Dangerous Mix of Eating Disorders and Alcohol.” March 5, 2008. Accessed on March 7, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.