Studies conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University have shown that there are strong connections between substance abuse and eating disorders. Approximately one half of women with eating disorders also some kind of problem with drugs and alcohol. This is a shocking statistic when compared to the 3% of the general population, a statistic that reveals that there is a greater chance that women with eating disorders will abuse substances as well.
Shared Risk Factors
The main reason that women with eating disorders also abuse substances is a desire to self-medicate. Whether it is purging calories or drinking and using drugs to alleviate negative emotions, the root is the same. Both problems stem for a problem with self image and are the manifestations of deeper problems that the women have. Eating disorders and substance abuse are simply the visible consequences of low self esteem.
Unfortunately other demographic factors appear to go hand in hand with substance abuse and eating disorders. Although substance abuse affects all people, eating disorders are confined primarily to women. Furthermore, most women who suffer from eating disorders tend to be between the ages of 18-30. People cite societal pressure, the pressure to look as thin as models and women in ads, as the root of eating disorders. Inevitably, it is younger women who tend to look towards these sources for inspiration and compare themselves with these unrealistically thin women.
What Should Parents Do?
If you are the parent of a young woman who seems to have low self-confidence then you should give her healthy role models. The younger you begin this, the better. It is often helpful to encourage healthy hobbies such as playing a sport, dancing, or something active. This will give the young woman a positive body image and help her realize that she has a strong capable and beautiful body.
It also helps to have a conversation about how unrealistic the images of some women on television or ads are. Most of those models are photoshopped even though they are beautiful. By revealing this, young women will likely get a better sense of just how unattainable that type of body is. Replace women in advertising with women who have healthy, body positive message. Curvier women who are fit but not ultra-skinny would be a good match.
When you address low self-confidence, you will also address some of the risk factors for substance abuse. By tackling these problems together, your children will have a better outlook on their self image as well as the image of women. This will allow them to have higher self esteem and likely avoid the pitfalls of eating disorders and substance abuse altogether.
Eating disorders is a very serious issue, this woman talks about going on her first diet at 9 years old: