Objective: Comorbid eating disorders (EDs) and ED symptoms are highly prevalent among women with substance use disorders and may be a barrier to recovery. Higher rates of psychiatric illness are common when more than one disorder is present. Yet little is known about the rates and risk factors for EDs/ED symptoms in women attending treatment centers in Australia. The primary aim is to examine the prevalence of ED symptoms among women attending treatment centers. This study also examines past physical and sexual abuse and mental health as specific predictors of EDs/ED symptoms.
Methods: Participants were 1,444 women attending residential treatment for substance use issues provided by the Salvation Army in Australia. Measures included the Addiction Severity Index, the Eating Disorder Screen for Primary Care, medication use, hospitalization, mental health, and past abuse.
Results: Alcohol was the primary substance of concern for 53.3% of the women, followed by amphetamines (17.5%), and the mean age was 37.83 years (SD = 10.8). Nearly 60% of women screened positive for ED symptoms and 32% reported a previous or current ED. Women with a history of sexual abuse had significantly greater odds (1.96) of positive screening for an ED compared to those without a history of sexual abuse. Similarly, compared to women without a history of physical abuse, those who did have a history had significantly higher odds (1.59) of a positive screen for an ED. These women were also significantly more likely to have had a health care provider recommend they take medications for psychological or emotional problems in the past 30 days, χ2(1) = 8.42, p = .004, and during their lifetime, χ2(1) = 17.89, p < .001. They also had a significantly greater number of overnight hospitalizations for medical problems compared to those who screened negative, t(137) = −2.19, p = .03.
Conclusions: Women with comorbid substance use issues and EDs are highly likely to have a history of past abuse. This combination of comorbidities makes treatment and recovery difficult. Increased awareness and research are required to explore integrated approaches to treatment that accommodate these vulnerabilities and improve long-term outcomes.
Available for download on Sunday, September 13, 2020