Co-Occurring Sexual Addiction & Eating Disorders

Woman sitting next to her car

If you found me after a car wreck with a horribly broken leg, and I wasn’t breathing, the triage options would be hard but straightforward—you would see if you could get me breathing again (hopefully)!

When people are struggling with psychological and physical concerns, we always have to consider triaging. The question becomes, “What is most likely to cause serious or permanent harm?”

Once co-occurring sex addiction and an eating disorder have been identified, it is often incredibly hard for an inexperienced eye to discern whether sexual addiction treatment or eating disorder treatment should come first. But there is a simple way to make this call.

So what should you do if you find yourself triaging this situation? I recommend you ask this question: “What is currently most threatening to my (or their) health?”

Consider Eating Disorder Treatment First

When answering the question above, eating disorders usually will be the most important, as malnourishment is hugely deleterious to our health. This is because our bodies are interconnected and emotions, cognitions and physical ability are woven together [1].

Losing weight will leave us open to mood swings, depression, anxiety, and far worse long-term side effects.  It is very difficult to think clearly, have motivation or physical strength if an eating disorder has taken hold.

Man with sad face

Rehab should rectify these very important physical and cognitive impacts immediately so that you can continue in recovery.

Once physical and cognitive stability has returned through eating disorder treatment, you can then conjointly pursue rehab for both of these concerns.

At this point, it is recommended to find a program that is able to facilitate recovery in both spheres—or find professionals who are willing and able to work together.

Do These Conditions Really Co-Occur?

It has long been known to the psychology field that problems can co-occur and now the academic community is providing increasing evidence of such co-occurrences.

The research is blossoming with important information and it isn’t surprising that psychological problems all relate to similar underlying developmental disruptions, injury, physiology or emotional pain. Take for example these important points:

  • Both men and women at high risk for eating disorders showed elevated odds for major
    depression, panic disorders, social phobias and psychological stress [2].
  • Concerns and struggles with body image, self-esteem, ideas around masculinity and femininity are acknowledged contributors to both sexual addiction and eating disorders [3].

If you then consider that depression is both implicated in causing and as a result of sexual addiction and eating disorders, it is no wonder that these conditions co-occur. Furthermore, these two areas are heavily body-focused, and see the body as a tool or structure that can be used, controlled or improved.

A good rehab program will take into account how distorted your (or other strugglers) relationship has become with the physical body. The body is often disparaged or idolized in a polarized manner.

The underlying point is this: Rehab is only effective if it deals with behavioral problems (sexual acting out, or eating dysfunction) and then goes on to address the emotional and developmental distress that fuels the behaviors.

If you or a loved one have these co-occurring conditions, then consider what ways you are hurting, what you may be denying, disbelieving, or have convinced yourself of. For example:
“It isn’t ok to be hurt or emotional,”
“I can, or have to cope with things,”
“I can’t trust anyone else,”
“No one cares about me,”
“I don’t have a problem, I can control it,”
“There isn’t anything wrong with this—others do worse or the same,”
“I will get noticed, I will feel love this way.”

These are all examples of what can be distortions in thinking resulting from and leading to eating disorders and sexual addiction.

Finding the Right Rehab for You

Consider carefully how much time you spend thinking about eating, food, purging, body image, body parts, sexual fantasies or using sexual stimulus. If these things seem disproportionate to other activities and invade a lot of your time, it is likely that you need help.

Man standing in the desertYou may not need sexual addiction treatment, or eating disorder treatment, but I would strongly recommend you seek help from a counselor or other qualified mental health professional to help you understand what might be needed.

Rehab is a scary word to many, but it is really a synonym for “life.” Get your life back if you need to, you’ll be glad you did.


Paul LoosemoreAbout the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of Stop Sexual Addiction where you can find his guide, or contact him.


[1]:  Bessel, V. D. K. (2015). The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Penguin Books.
[2]: Gadalla, T. M. (2008). Psychiatric comorbidity in eating disorders: a comparison of men and women. Journal of Mens Health, 5(3), 209-217. doi:10.1016/j.jomh.2008.06.033
[3]: Birli, J., Zhang, N., & McCoy, V. A. (n.d.). Eating Disorders Among Male Students. Retrieved July 3, 2017, from

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on August 6, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 6, 2017.
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.