The Concurrent Treatment of Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders

Thank you to our team contributor, Director of our Substance Abuse Program Lisa Richberg, LMHC for beginning our four-part series on the treatment of both co-occurring and eating disorders at Oliver-Pyatt Centers.

A substance abuse program within an eating disorder treatment center? Many have asked me what these two addictions have in common and why confuse things by treating them together?  

I came to Oliver-Pyatt Centers three years ago, interested in exploring the relationship between these two populations. A native Miamian, I was excited to be back on my home turf after living in Manhattan where I managed a private substance abuse intensive outpatient program and worked in private practice. It was through these experiences I began to identify the deep connection between those suffering from eating disorders and substance abuse. I watched clients and their family members struggle to understand why they seemed to fluctuate between one set of behaviors and the other, sometimes relying on both in cases of extreme distress. I began to understand that these addictions are like different branches of the same tree. Both are means of coping with difficult situations and emotions.

So, when I joined OPC and was asked to develop substance abuse programming for the center’s already fantastic and whole person approach, I relished the opportunity. We began slowly at first, assessing client’s needs by asking more specific questions about drug and alcohol use during intake. As a result, co-occurring groups were created, in addition to 12-step meetings. Client feedback proved this new programming to be beneficial in helping individuals gain a better understanding of what drives their addictions, what triggers them, and how to better cope with these triggers. Clients reported feeling safer discussing substance abuse issues in smaller groups made up of women who share similar struggles. 

In the past few years our program has continued to develop. Having learned the value of asking the right questions, we now offer comprehensive substance abuse evaluations to incoming clients who are often unsure as to whether their use is problematic. Education and discussion are essential, and we offer weekly co-occurring substance abuse psychoeducation and process groups, as well as the opportunity to attend several off-site 12-step meetings weekly. We identified a need for improved relapse prevention planning for clients stepping down into intensive outpatient programming or outpatient treatment, and created a program which pairs these clients with specially trained co-occurring recovery coaches. The recovery coaches and clients meet weekly to discuss their personalized relapse prevention plans and work on them at their own pace. We sit down with each of our clients as they are planning to transition out of our program into a lower level of care, and help them develop a solid, realistic recovery plan that meets their individual needs. Our co-occurring program will continue to grow, shaped by the needs of our most important advisors – our clients. I am excited to be heading this new and absolutely necessary program, and by how it will continue to enrich our already vibrant OPC community!

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