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Reviewed by Kim Dennis, MD, CEDS (SYR) provides helpful information for people who are dealing with substance use issues — and their family members, friends, and co-workers, too.  SYR knows that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges faced by those who misuse alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs, or other substances, and they aim to break through the clutter to help people at any stage of recovery.

Chances are you’ve heard about or know someone affected by opioids. Many Americans have developed opioid use disorders, and over 100 Americans die due to opioid use every day.1 And people with eating disorders have a greater risk of misusing opioids, and vice versa.2,3,4

If you or a loved one are experiencing disordered eating and opioid use disorder, know that help is available and treatment works.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of substances which bind to opioid receptors in our brains and other areas of our bodies, increasing pleasure and reducing pain.

After repeated use, even when taken as prescribed, you may experience a desire or need to take more. This may lead you to take more than the prescribed dose of a painkiller. And if you run out of medication, you may seek more prescription opioids or illegal opioids like heroin or fentanyl — with potentially deadly results.5,6,7

Cravings are a common effect of opioid use. Abruptly stopping opioids can result in withdrawal symptoms, which further drives a desire to resume use.8

Types of opioids commonly used or misused include:

  • Prescription pain medications, such as oxycodone (Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and tramadol.
  • Heroin, an illegal opioid.
  • Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

Opioid use disorder has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. However, help is available and recovery is possible. Opioid use disorder can be diagnosed and treated by a clinician, often by using a combination of medication and behavioral therapies.

Link Between Eating Disorders and Opioid Misuse

Both eating disorders and opioid use disorder can be serious and even lethal.4,9,10 For many people, substance use can lead to disordered eating, or the other way around. People with eating disorders are significantly more likely than the general population to have substance use disorders and vice versa.

Eating and substance use disorders share some common risk factors such as:3,4,11,12

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Family history of these or other mental illnesses.
  • Low self-esteem or social pressures.

Prevent an Overdose

According to the CDC, opioids contributed to more than 75% of drug overdose deaths in 2021. A leading cause is illegally manufactured fentanyl, which is highly potent and can be added to other, non-opioid drugs without the user’s knowledge.

You can protect yourself or a loved one from an opioid overdose. Naloxone, known by brand names like Narcan and RiVive, is an over-the-counter medicine that can stop an opioid overdose and save a life.

If you suspect someone is experiencing an opioid overdose:

  • Call 911.
  • Administer naloxone if available.
  • Keep the person awake and lying on their side until first responders arrive.

Learn more about opioid overdose prevention.

Find Treatment and Start Your Recovery

Recovery from eating disorders and/or substance use disorders is a personal journey, and there’s no single solution that works for everyone.14 

Start by finding a trained health care professional to assess your physical and mental health needs. They then can work with you to create a recovery plan.15 Find treatment and support for eating disorders and substance misuse. 

Learn More


[1] National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. (2023). Drug Overdose Death Rates. NCDAS. Available at:,than%20136%20Americans%20every%20day

[2] National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2003). Food for thought: Substance abuse and eating disorders. Commonwealth Fund & National Institute on Drug Abuse. Available at:

[3] Gregorowski, C., Seedat, S., & Jordaan, G. P. (2013). A clinical approach to the assessment and management of co-morbid eating disorders and substance use disorders. BMC psychiatry, 13, 289.

[4] Eskander, N., Chakrapani, S., & Ghani, M. R. (2020). The Risk of Substance Use Among Adolescents and Adults With Eating Disorders. Cureus, 12(9), e10309.

[5] The National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2022). Mind matters: The body’s response to opioids. National Institutes of Health. Available at:

[6] The National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2023). Opioids. National Institutes of Health. Available at:

[7] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Today’s heroin epidemic. Available at:

[8] Mayo Clinic. (2022). Am I vulnerable to opioid addiction?. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Available at:

[9] American Psychiatric Association. (2023). What are eating disorders? Available at:

[10] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2023). Mental health and substance use disorders. SAMHSA. Available at:

[11] Ressler, A. (2008). Insatiable Hungers: Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse. Social Work Today, (8) 4, 30. Available at:

[12] Munn-Chernoff, M. A., Grant, J. D., Agrawal, A., Sartor, C. E., Werner, K. B., Bucholz, K. K., Madden, P. A., Heath, A. C., & Duncan, A. E. (2015). Genetic overlap between alcohol use disorder and bulimic behaviors in European American and African American women. Drug and alcohol dependence, 153, 335–340.

[13] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Data Overview, The Drug Overdose Epidemic: Behind the Numbers. CDC. Available at:

[14] Bahji, A., Mazhar, M. N., Hudson, C. C., Nadkarni, P., MacNeil, B. A., & Hawken, E. (2019). Prevalence of substance use disorder comorbidity among individuals with eating disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry research, 273, 58–66.

[15] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Clients With Substance Use and Eating Disorders. SAMHSA Advisory, (10) 1. Available at: