Diabetes and Insulin Misuse: Co-Occurring Eating Disorder?

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Many individuals throughout the world are affected by the medical condition Diabetes Mellitus. There are two types of diabetes – Type 1, sometimes referred to as Juvenile Diabetes or Insulin-Dependent Diabetes, and Type 2, also known as adult-onset or non-insulin depended diabetes.

In both of these types of diabetes, individuals impacted by this condition cannot use insulin effectively. As insulin is needed to effectively process glucose in the body for energy, insulin injections may be used to help control blood sugar in individuals with diabetes.

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Understanding the Treatment for Diabetes

Depending on which type of diabetes a person may have, following a specific and individualized treatment protocol is necessary for managing this condition. Diabetes that is left untreated can lead to many adverse and severe medical complications, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Stroke
  • Foot or leg amputations

With Type 1 Diabetes, the pancreas can no longer make insulin, which is why individuals with this condition are dependent on insulin medication to effectively use glucose as energy from food ingested.

People who are affected by Type 2 Diabetes will continue to produce insulin, however, their bodies may not be responding well to normal insulin production. The use of insulin medications are not always necessary with Type 2 Diabetes, as some individuals respond well to dietary adjustments. In comparison, utilizing insulin medication is necessary for managing Type 1 Diabetes.

Use of Insulin Medication in Type 1 Diabetes Management

Because the body is not able to adequately produce insulin in a person with Type 1 Diabetes, insulin must be injected and managed. There are varying types of insulin depending on how quickly they work and the duration of their effects.

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Insulin medications are typically categorized by their onset, peak, duration, concentration, and route of delivery. In order to be best absorbed by the body, insulin is usually injected under the skin (into the subcutaneous or fat tissue), or given intravenously.

The goal of insulin replacement therapy is to replace insulin levels in the body with the optimal amount and at the right times. This is crucial for preventing episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar in the body), or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels).

Keeping blood sugar at an optimal range is essential for staying well and preventing adverse side effects. Individuals on an insulin replacement therapy protocol will often test their blood sugar throughout the day, including before meals and snacks, to determine if the body is responding well to the prescribed treatment plan with insulin medication management.

Misuse of Insulin in Medication Management of Diabetes

With some individuals who struggle with Type 1 Diabetes, insulin can be misused or even abused. This may be due to the influence of an underlying eating disorder, such as bulimia nervosa, in which a person is attempting to compensate for a binging episode.

Student suffering for depression in young ageWithholding insulin needed or using excessive insulin is extremely dangerous and can present serious medical complications in a person affected by Type 1 diabetes. Often referred to as “diabulimia”, insulin misuse is characteristic of this condition.

If you or someone you care for is dealing with Type 1 Diabetes and abnormal food behaviors, be sure to talk with a professional about what you may be dealing with. Insulin is a drug that is part of a necessary medication management regimen for the individual who has Type 1 Diabetes, and misuse of this medication can be fatal.

The complexity of insulin misuse and a possible underlying eating disorder can be overwhelming, and for this purpose, it is essential to consult with a professional treatment team who can offer comprehensive care. This will likely involve a physician who specializes in diabetes, such as an endocrinologist, and eating disorder specialists, such as a therapist, psychiatrist, and dietitian.

If you suspect someone you love is misusing their insulin, consider having a discussion with them about your concerns. Voicing your care and concern can encourage them to get the professional help they need to address this complex issue.


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About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Special Projects Coordinator for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.

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.

Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 14, 2016
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.