Substance use disorders and eating disorders are complicated conditions when they’re present alone. When these conditions combine, the effects tend to be challenging and complex.

Although people may consider other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED) and substance abuse two separate issues marked by unique characteristics and traits, the two conditions are often linked. Not only do these conditions share many similarities, but they commonly co-occur. People with OSFED are much more likely than the general population to have substance use disorders. Because of this connection, understanding the relationship between OSFED and substance use disorders can help people identify and treat conditions more successfully.

Effects of Drug Abuse on OSFED

Many of the symptoms of drug abuse, dependence or addiction are similar to eating disorder symptoms. Both drug abuse and OSFED:

  • Focus on obsessions, cravings and rituals
  • Increase in frequency and intensity as time goes on
  • Dramatically influence a person’s behavior
  • Are challenging to stop
  • Worry friends and loved ones
  • Cause a person to continue the practice despite adverse consequences

Some people might start using substances when they already have OSFED as a way to cope with the unwanted feelings sparked by the eating disorder. As time continues, the substance use increases stressors and adds another problem to an already dangerous situation.

Statistics on OSFED and Addiction

The connection between eating disorders, like OSFED, and substance use is staggering. Statistics on eating disorders and addiction show:

  • Half of all people with eating disorders abuse alcohol or other drugs, which is an about five times greater rate than the general population
  • 35 percent of all people with substance use disorders also had an eating disorder, which is about 11 times more than the general population

Statistics specific to OSFED and substance abuse indicate:

  • OSFED affects approximately 6 percent of people in the U.S.
  • 1 in 10 people with OSFED have a co-occurring substance use disorder
  • People with OSFED are more likely to abuse alcohol than other substances

Does OSFED Lead to Drug Abuse?

With most mental health issues, it is impossible to say that one condition definitively causes another to develop. Just as no one can say that depression leads to anxiety, one cannot say that OSFED leads to drug abuse or drug abuse to OSFED.

However, what experts do know is that there are shared factors that contribute to both eating disorders and drug abuse, including:

  • Brain chemistry and biology
  • Family history and heredity
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • High social pressures and stress

When someone has a combination of these factors, they have an increased chance of developing an eating disorder like OSFED, a substance use disorder, or both conditions.

Treating OSFED and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

A mental health professional must take special care and attention when treating co-occurring disorders. The most effective methods for treating OSFED and substance use disorders involve addressing all facets of the person’s mental, physical and social health simultaneously. Taking all these factors of well-being into account can increase the likelihood that all symptoms diminish without any new, negative behaviors arising.

Effective substance use and OSFED treatment will likely incorporate a combination of:

  • Talk therapy
  • Medications
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Physical health evaluations and treatment

If you or your loved one live with an eating disorder and substance abuse, call The Recovery Village today. The Recovery Village offers professional treatments specifically for eating disorders co-occurring with substance use.

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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

Better Health Channel. “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders.” 2019. Accessed on March 15, 2019.

Eating Recovery Center. “OSFED Facts & Statistics.” (n.d.) Accessed on March 15, 2019.

National Eating Disorder Association. “Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse.” (n.d.) Accessed on March 15, 2019.

National Eating Disorder Association. “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder.” (n.d.) Accessed on March 15, 2019.

National Eating Disorder Association. “Types of Treatment.” (n.d.) Accessed on March 15, 2019.

Pareth, R. “What are Eating Disorders?” American Psychiatric Association. January 2017. Accessed on March 15, 2019.

Ross, C.C. “When Eating Disorders and Drug Addiction Collide.” Psychology Today. November 30, 2015. Accessed on March 15, 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.