Although pica may not be directly linked to substance abuse, many people with pica also have other mental health conditions that can increase their risk of addiction.

People with pica feel the intense urge to consume nonfood items, which can result in a host of unwanted and dangerous physical health complications. Individuals with substance use disorders frequently use alcohol or other drugs, which can also lead to a variety of health problems.

Pica and substance use disorders may not co-occur with great regularity, but when they do, the two disorders can have dangerous effects on physical and mental health. To better manage substance use disorder and pica, it’s crucial to understand how both conditions interact and influence each other.

Effects of Drug Use on Pica

The effects of different substances vary widely. For example, stimulant drugs drastically speed up body processes, while sedatives slow them down. One common effect of drug and alcohol use is their tendency to result in impaired judgment, poor decision-making and increased impulsivity.

These consequences are problematic for anyone, but they are especially damaging to individuals with pica. People with pica need tremendous self-control to avoid eating non-food items. If a person with pica becomes intoxicated, the substance may limit their ability to suppress the urge to consume non-food items. In this way, drug use has a detrimental impact on the symptoms and treatment of pica and may intensify the disorder.

Statistics on Pica and Addiction

Pica is a challenging mental health disorder to track. Even the American Psychiatric Association cannot state a clear prevalence for the condition in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders because symptoms of the condition may come and go over time. Currently, there is no certainty regarding how many people live with both pica and addiction issues. What experts do know is that pica is a type of eating disorder. As many as 50 percent of all people with eating disorders also abuse alcohol or other drugs.

Experts also understand that people with pica may have co-occurring obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or schizophrenia. These conditions are strongly connected to substance use and addiction. People with schizophrenia are much more likely than others to abuse many addictive substances, including nicotine. As many as 90 percent of people with schizophrenia regularly smoke cigarettes, a rate three times higher than the general population. Among people with OCD, 2 of 5 also have a substance use disorder. Even if only a small proportion of people with schizophrenia or OCD have pica, the increased risk of addiction is present.

Can Pica Lead to Drug Abuse?

Having any mental health condition may increase a person’s risk of drug abuse, as many individuals with mental health conditions use substances to self-medicate their symptoms. For this reason, it’s possible that pica can also increase a person’s risk of substance use, abuse and addiction.

Treating Pica and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

Treating a mental health condition like pica requires professional mental health services. People with pica and co-occurring addiction will need a specialized pica treatment program to address their specific needs.

If you or someone you love has pica and a substance use disorder, consider calling The Recovery Village. The Recovery Village can put you in touch with a representative who can help you start the path to recovery today. Reach out today for more information.

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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.

Berger, F.K. “Pica.” MedlinePlus. March 26, 2018. Accessed on April 5, 2019.

National Eating Disorder Association. “Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders.” Accessed on April 5, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Substance Use Disorders.” 2016. Accessed on April 5, 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.