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addiction, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD

Addiction, Anxiety, Depression, Eating Disorders and PTSD Fact Sheets

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Addiction, Anxiety, Depression, Eating Disorders and PTSD Fact Sheets

Go to:  Anxiety…..Depression…..Eating Disorders…..PTSD  

Understanding Drug Use and Addiction Drug Facts

Many people don’t understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives.

What Is drug addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a “relapsing” disease—people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug.

It’s common for a person to relapse, but relapse doesn’t mean that treatment doesn’t work. As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Treatment plans need to be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.

What happens to the brain when a person takes drugs?

Most drugs affect the brain’s “reward circuit,” causing euphoria as well as flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. A properly functioning reward system motivates a person to repeat behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors like taking drugs, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again.

As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adapts by reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it. This reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the drug—an effect known as tolerance. They might take more of the drug to try and achieve the same high. These brain adaptations often lead to the person becoming less and less able to derive pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food, sex, or social activities.

Long-term use also causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well, affecting functions that include:

  • learning
  • judgment
  • decision-making
  • stress
  • memory
  • behavior

Despite being aware of these harmful outcomes, many people who use drugs continue to take them, which is the nature of addiction.

Why do some people become addicted to drugs while others don’t?

No one factor can predict if a person will become addicted to drugs. A combination of factors influences risk for addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction. For example:

Biology. The genes that people are born with account for about half of a person’s risk for addiction. Gender, ethnicity, and the presence of other mental disorders may also influence risk for drug use and addiction.

  • Environment. A person’s environment includes many different influences, from family and friends to economic status and general quality of life. Factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and parental guidance can greatly affect a person’s likelihood of drug use and addiction.
  • Development. Genetic and environmental factors interact with critical developmental stages in a person’s life to affect addiction risk. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier that drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to addiction. This is particularly problematic for teens. Because areas in their brains that control decision-making, judgment, and self-control are still developing, teens may be especially prone to risky behaviors, including trying drugs.

Can drug addiction be cured or prevented?

As with most other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, treatment for drug addiction generally isn’t a cure. However, addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed. People who are recovering from an addiction will be at risk for relapse for years and possibly for their whole lives. Research shows that combining addiction treatment medicines with behavioral therapy ensures the best chance of success for most patients. Treatment approaches tailored to each patient’s drug use patterns and any co-occurring medical, mental, and social problems can lead to continued recovery.

More good news is that drug use and addiction are preventable. Results from NIDA-funded research have shown that prevention programs involving families, schools, communities, and the media are effective for preventing or reducing drug use and addiction. Although personal events and cultural factors affect drug use trends, when young people view drug use as harmful, they tend to decrease their drug taking. Therefore, education and outreach are key in helping people understand the possible risks of drug use. Teachers, parents, and health care providers have crucial roles in educating young people and preventing drug use and addiction.

Points to Remember

  • Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.
  • Brain changes that occur over time with drug use challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. This is why drug addiction is also a relapsing disease.
  • Relapse is the return to drug use after an attempt to stop. Relapse indicates the need for more or different treatment.
  • Most drugs affect the brain’s reward circuit by flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy activities, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again.
  • Over time, the brain adjusts to the excess dopamine, which reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the drug—an effect known as tolerance. They might take more of the drug, trying to achieve the same dopamine high.
  • No single factor can predict whether a person will become addicted to drugs. A combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors influences risk for addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction.
  • Drug addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed.
  • More good news is that drug use and addiction are preventable. Teachers, parents, and health care providers have crucial roles in educating young people and preventing drug use and addiction.

Learn more

For information about understanding drug use and addiction, visit:

For more information about the costs of drug abuse to the United States, visit:

For more information about prevention, visit:

For more information about treatment, visit:

To find a publicly funded treatment center in your state, call 1-800-662-HELP or visit: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

 

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Anxiety

Overview

Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders.

Signs and Symptoms

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances. The fear and anxiety can cause significant problems in areas of their life, such as social interactions, school, and work.

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
  • Being irritable
  • Having muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder have recurrent unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. Attacks can occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by a trigger, such as a feared object or situation.

During a panic attack, people may experience:

  • Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heartrate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of being out of control

People with panic disorder often worry about when the next attack will happen and actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Worry about panic attacks, and the effort spent trying to avoid attacks, cause significant problems in various areas of the person’s life, including the development of agoraphobia (see below).

Phobia-related disorders

phobia is an intense fear of—or aversion to—specific objects or situations. Although it can be realistic to be anxious in some circumstances, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object.

People with a phobia:

  • May have an irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation
  • Take active steps to avoid the feared object or situation
  • Experience immediate intense anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation
  • Endure unavoidable objects and situations with intense anxiety

There are several types of phobias and phobia-related disorders:

Specific Phobias (sometimes called simple phobias): As the name suggests, people who have a specific phobia have an intense fear of, or feel intense anxiety about, specific types of objects or situations. Some examples of specific phobias include the fear of:

  • Flying
  • Heights
  • Specific animals, such as spiders, dogs, or snakes
  • Receiving injections
  • Blood

Social anxiety disorder (previously called social phobia): People with social anxiety disorder have a general intense fear of, or anxiety toward, social or performance situations. They worry that actions or behaviors associated with their anxiety will be negatively evaluated by others, leading them to feel embarrassed. This worry often causes people with social anxiety to avoid social situations. Social anxiety disorder can manifest in a range of situations, such as within the workplace or the school environment.

Agoraphobia: People with agoraphobia have an intense fear of two or more of the following situations:

  • Using public transportation
  • Being in open spaces
  • Being in enclosed spaces
  • Standing in line or being in a crowd
  • Being outside of the home alone

People with agoraphobia often avoid these situations, in part, because they think being able to leave might be difficult or impossible in the event they have panic-like reactions or other embarrassing symptoms. In the most severe form of agoraphobia, an individual can become housebound.

Separation anxiety disorder: Separation anxiety is often thought of as something that only children deal with; however, adults can also be diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. People who have separation anxiety disorder have fears about being parted from people to whom they are attached. They often worry that some sort of harm or something untoward will happen to their attachment figures while they are separated. This fear leads them to avoid being separated from their attachment figures and to avoid being alone. People with separation anxiety may have nightmares about being separated from attachment figures or experience physical symptoms when separation occurs or is anticipated.

Selective mutism: A somewhat rare disorder associated with anxiety is selective mutism. Selective mutism occurs when people fail to speak in specific social situations despite having normal language skills. Selective mutism usually occurs before the age of 5 and is often associated with extreme shyness, fear of social embarrassment, compulsive traits, withdrawal, clinging behavior, and temper tantrums. People diagnosed with selective mutism are often also diagnosed with other anxiety disorders.

Risk Factors

Researchers are finding that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Although the risk factors for each type of anxiety disorder can vary, some general risk factors for all types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Temperamental traits of shyness or behavioral inhibition in childhood
  • Exposure to stressful and negative life or environmental events in early childhood or adulthood
  • A history of anxiety or other mental illnesses in biological relatives
  • Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias, or caffeine or other substances/medications, can produce or aggravate anxiety symptoms; a physical health examination is helpful in the evaluation of a possible anxiety disorder.

Treatments and Therapies

Anxiety disorders are generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. There are many ways to treat anxiety and people should work with their doctor to choose the treatment that is best for them.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” can help people with anxiety disorders. To be effective, psychotherapy must be directed at the person’s specific anxieties and tailored to his or her needs.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an example of one type of psychotherapy that can help people with anxiety disorders. It teaches people different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxiety-producing and fearful objects and situations. CBT can also help people learn and practice social skills, which is vital for treating social anxiety disorder.

Cognitive therapy and exposure therapy are two CBT methods that are often used, together or by themselves, to treat social anxiety disorder. Cognitive therapy focuses on identifying, challenging, and then neutralizing unhelpful or distorted thoughts underlying anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy focuses on confronting the fears underlying an anxiety disorder to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding. Exposure therapy is sometimes used along with relaxation exercises and/or imagery.

CBT can be conducted individually or with a group of people who have similar difficulties. Often “homework” is assigned for participants to complete between sessions.

Medication

Medication does not cure anxiety disorders but can help relieve symptoms. Medication for anxiety is prescribed by doctors, such as a psychiatrist or primary care provider. Some states also allow psychologists who have received specialized training to prescribe psychiatric medications. The most common classes of medications used to combat anxiety disorders are anti-anxiety drugs (such as benzodiazepines), antidepressants, and beta-blockers.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

Anti-anxiety medications can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, or extreme fear and worry. The most common anti-anxiety medications are called benzodiazepines. Although benzodiazepines are sometimes used as first-line treatments for generalized anxiety disorder, they have both benefits and drawbacks.

Some benefits of benzodiazepines are that they are effective in relieving anxiety and take effect more quickly than antidepressant medications often prescribed for anxiety. Some drawbacks of benzodiazepines are that people can build up a tolerance to them if they are taken over a long period of time and they may need higher and higher doses to get the same effect. Some people may even become dependent on them.

To avoid these problems, doctors usually prescribe benzodiazepines for short periods of time, a practice that is especially helpful for older adults, people who have substance abuse problems, and people who become dependent on medication easily.

If people suddenly stop taking benzodiazepines, they may have withdrawal symptoms, or their anxiety may return. Therefore, benzodiazepines should be tapered off slowly. When you and your doctor have decided it is time to stop the medication, the doctor will help you slowly and safely decrease your dose.

For long-term use, benzodiazepines are often considered a second-line treatment for anxiety (with antidepressants being considered a first-line treatment) as well as an “as-needed” treatment for any distressing flare-ups of symptoms.

A different type of anti-anxiety medication is buspirone. Buspirone is a non-benzodiazepine medication specifically indicated for the treatment of chronic anxiety, although it does not help everyone.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants are used to treat depression, but they can also be helpful for treating anxiety disorders. They may help improve the way your brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress. You may need to try several different antidepressant medicines before finding the one that improves your symptoms and has manageable side effects. A medication that has helped you or a close family member in the past will often be considered.

Antidepressants can take time to work, so it’s important to give the medication a chance before reaching a conclusion about its effectiveness. If you begin taking antidepressants, do not stop taking them without the help of a doctor. When you and your doctor have decided it is time to stop the medication, the doctor will help you slowly and safely decrease your dose. Stopping them abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms.

Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are commonly used as first-line treatments for anxiety. Less-commonly used — but effective — treatments for anxiety disorders are older classes of antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Please Note: In some cases, children, teenagers, and young adults under 25 may experience an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior when taking antidepressant medications, especially in the first few weeks after starting or when the dose is changed. Because of this, patients of all ages taking antidepressants should be watched closely, especially during the first few weeks of treatment.

Beta-Blockers

Although beta-blockers are most often used to treat high blood pressure, they can also be used to help relieve the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, shaking, trembling, and blushing. These medications, when taken for a short period of time, can help people keep physical symptoms under control. They can also be used “as needed” to reduce acute anxiety, including as a preventive intervention for some predictable forms of performance anxieties.

Choosing the Right Medication

Some types of drugs may work better for specific types of anxiety disorders, so people should work closely with their doctor to identify which medication is best for them. Certain substances such as caffeine, some over-the-counter cold medicines, illicit drugs, and herbal supplements may aggravate the symptoms of anxiety disorders or interact with prescribed medication. Patients should talk with their doctor, so they can learn which substances are safe and which to avoid.

Choosing the right medication, medication dose, and treatment plan should be done under an expert’s care and should be based on a person’s needs and their medical situation. Your doctor may try several medicines before finding the right one.

You and your doctor should discuss:

  • How well medications are working or might work to improve your symptoms
  • Benefits and side effects of each medication
  • Risk for serious side effects based on your medical history
  • The likelihood of the medications requiring lifestyle changes
  • Costs of each medication
  • Other alternative therapies, medications, vitamins, and supplements you are taking and how these may affect your treatment; a combination of medication and psychotherapy is the best approach for many people with anxiety disorders
  • How the medication should be stopped (Some drugs can’t be stopped abruptly and must be tapered off slowly under a doctor’s supervision).

For more information, please visit Mental Health Medications Health Topic webpage. Please note that any information on this website regarding medications is provided for educational purposes only and may be outdated. Diagnosis and treatment decisions should be made in consultation with your doctor. Information about medications changes frequently. Please visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website for the latest information on warnings, patient medication guides, or newly approved medications.

Support Groups

Some people with anxiety disorders might benefit from joining a self-help or support group and sharing their problems and achievements with others. Internet chat rooms might also be useful, but any advice received over the internet should be used with caution, as Internet acquaintances have usually never seen each other and what has helped one person is not necessarily what is best for another. You should always check with your doctor before following any treatment advice found on the internet. Talking with a trusted friend or member of the clergy can also provide support, but it is not necessarily a sufficient alternative to care from a doctor or other health professional.

Stress Management Techniques

Stress management techniques and meditation can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and may enhance the effects of therapy. Research suggests that aerobic exercise can help some people manage their anxiety; however, exercise should not take the place of standard care and more research is needed.

Join a Study

Clinical trials are research studies that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe. Although individuals may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others may be better helped in the future.

Researchers at NIMH and around the country conduct many studies with patients and healthy volunteers. We have new and better treatment options today because of what clinical trials uncovered years ago. Be part of tomorrow’s medical breakthroughs. Talk to your health care provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you.

To learn more or find a study, visit:

Learn More

Free Brochures and Shareable Resources

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): When Worry Gets Out of ControlA brochure on GAD that explains the signs, symptoms, and treatment

I’m So Stressed Out!: This fact sheet intended for teens and young adults presents information about stress, anxiety, and ways to cope when feeling overwhelmed.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts Take OverA brochure on OCD that explains the signs, symptoms, and treatments

Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms: A brochure on panic disorder that explains the signs, symptoms, and treatments

Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just ShynessThis brochure discusses symptoms, causes, and treatments for social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia).

hareable Resources on Anxiety Disorders: Help support anxiety awareness and education in your community. Use these digital resources, including graphics and messages, to spread the word about anxiety disorders.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

 

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Depression

Key facts

  • Depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression.
  • Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.
  • More women are affected by depression than men.
  • Depression can lead to suicide.
  • There are effective psychological and pharmacological treatments for moderate and severe depression.

Overview

Depression is a common illness worldwide, with more than 264 million people affected(1). Depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. Especially when long-lasting and with moderate or severe intensity, depression may become a serious health condition. It can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.

Although there are known, effective treatments for mental disorders, between 76% and 85% of people in low- and middle-income countries receive no treatment for their disorder(2).  Barriers to effective care include a lack of resources, lack of trained health-care providers and social stigma associated with mental disorders. Another barrier to effective care is inaccurate assessment. In countries of all income levels, people who are depressed are often not correctly diagnosed, and others who do not have the disorder are too often misdiagnosed and prescribed antidepressants.

The burden of depression and other mental health conditions is on the rise globally. A World Health Assembly resolution passed in May 2013 has called for a comprehensive, coordinated response to mental disorders at the country level.

Types and symptoms

Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate or severe.

A key distinction is also made between depression in people who have or do not have a history of manic episodes. Both types of depression can be chronic (i.e. over an extended period) with relapses, especially if they go untreated.

Recurrent depressive disorder: this disorder involves repeated depressive episodes. During these episodes, the person experiences depressed mood, loss of interest and enjoyment, and reduced energy leading to diminished activity for at least two weeks. Many people with depression also suffer from anxiety symptoms, disturbed sleep and appetite, and may have feelings of guilt or low self-worth, poor concentration and even symptoms that cannot be explained by a medical diagnosis.

Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate or severe. An individual with a mild depressive episode will have some difficulty in continuing with ordinary work and social activities but will probably not cease to function completely. During a severe depressive episode, it is unlikely that the sufferer will be able to continue with social, work or domestic activities, except to a limited extent.

Bipolar affective disorder: this type of depression typically consists of both manic and depressive episodes separated by periods of normal mood. Manic episodes involve elevated or irritable mood, over-activity, pressure of speech, inflated self-esteem and a decreased need for sleep.

Contributing factors and prevention

Depression results from a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors. People who have gone through adverse life events (unemployment, bereavement, psychological trauma) are more likely to develop depression. Depression can, in turn, lead to more stress and dysfunction and worsen the affected person’s life situation and depression itself.

There are interrelationships between depression and physical health. For example, cardiovascular disease can lead to depression and vice versa.

Prevention programmes have been shown to reduce depression. Effective community approaches to prevent depression include school-based programmes to enhance a pattern of positive thinking in children and adolescents. Interventions for parents of children with behavioural problems may reduce parental depressive symptoms and improve outcomes for their children. Exercise programmes for the elderly can also be effective in depression prevention.

Diagnosis and treatment

There are effective treatments for moderate and severe depression. Health-care providers may offer psychological treatments such as behavioural activation, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), or antidepressant medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). Health-care providers should keep in mind the possible adverse effects associated with antidepressant medication, the ability to deliver either intervention (in terms of expertise, and/or treatment availability), and individual preferences. Different psychological treatment formats for consideration include individual and/or group face-to-face psychological treatments delivered by professionals and supervised lay therapists.

Psychosocial treatments are also effective for mild depression. Antidepressants can be an effective form of treatment for moderate-severe depression but are not the first line of treatment for cases of mild depression. They should not be used for treating depression in children and are not the first line of treatment in adolescents, among whom they should be used with extra caution.

WHO response

Depression is one of the priority conditions covered by WHO’s mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP). The Programme aims to help countries increase services for people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders through care provided by health workers who are not specialists in mental health. WHO has developed brief psychological intervention manuals for depression that may be delivered by lay workers. An example is Problem Management Plus, which describes the use of behavioural activation, relaxation training, problem solving treatment and strengthening social support. Moreover, the manual Group Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) for Depression describes group treatment of depression. Finally, Thinking Healthy covers the use of cognitive-behavioural therapy for perinatal depression.

References

1. GBD 2017 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence Collaborators. (2018). Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 354 diseases and injuries for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet. DOI.

2. Wang et al. Use of mental health services for anxiety, mood, and substance disorders in 17 countries in the WHO world mental health surveys. The Lancet. 2007; 370(9590):841-50.

 World Health Organization Fact Sheet republished under CC BY-NC-SA 3 0 IGO license.

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Eating Disorders

Overview

There is a commonly held misconception that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are actually serious and often fatal illnesses that are associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Preoccupation with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Anorexia nervosa

People with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. People with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, severely restrict the amount of food they eat, often exercise excessively, and/or may force themselves to vomit or use laxatives to lose weight. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. While many people with this disorder die from complications associated with starvation, others die of suicide.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Symptoms include:

  • Extremely restricted eating
  • Extreme thinness (emaciation)
  • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight

Other symptoms may develop over time, including:

  • Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Mild anemia and muscle wasting and weakness
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Dry and yellowish skin
  • Growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure slowed breathing and pulse
  • Damage to the structure and function of the heart
  • Brain damage
  • Multiorgan failure
  • Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
  • Infertility

Bulimia nervosa

People with bulimia nervosa have recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. This binge-eating is followed by behavior that compensates for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors. People with bulimia nervosa may be slightly underweight, normal weight, or over overweight.

Symptoms include:

  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
  • Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid
  • Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
  • Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
  • Electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium, and other minerals) which can lead to stroke or heart attack

Binge-eating disorder

People with binge-eating disorder lose control over his or her eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.

Symptoms include:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as a 2-hour period
  • Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
  • Eating fast during binge episodes
  • Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
  • Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about your eating
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

Risk Factors

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, body weights, and genders. Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life. These disorders affect both genders, although rates among women are higher than among men. Like women who have eating disorders, men also have a distorted sense of body image.

Researchers are finding that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors. Researchers are using the latest technology and science to better understand eating disorders.

One approach involves the study of human genes. Eating disorders run in families. Researchers are working to identify DNA variations that are linked to the increased risk of developing eating disorders.

Brain imaging studies are also providing a better understanding of eating disorders. For example, researchers have found differences in patterns of brain activity in women with eating disorders in comparison with healthy women. This kind of research can help guide the development of new means of diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders.

Treatments and Therapies

It is important to seek treatment early for eating disorders. People with eating disorders are at higher risk for suicide and medical complications. People with eating disorders can often have other mental disorders (such as depression or anxiety) or problems with substance use. Complete recovery is possible.

Treatment plans are tailored to individual needs and may include one or more of the following:

  • Individual, group, and/or family psychotherapy
  • Medical care and monitoring
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Medications

Psychotherapies

Psychotherapies such as a family-based therapy called the Maudsley approach, where parents of adolescents with anorexia nervosa assume responsibility for feeding their child, appear to be very effective in helping people gain weight and improve eating habits and moods.

To reduce or eliminate binge-eating and purging behaviors, people may undergo cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is another type of psychotherapy that helps a person learn how to identify distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns and recognize and change inaccurate beliefs.

Medications

Evidence also suggests that medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers may also be helpful for treating eating disorders and other co-occurring illnesses such as anxiety or depression. Check the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website: (http://www.fda.gov/), for the latest information on warnings, patient medication guides, or newly approved medications.

Join a Study

Clinical trials are research studies that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe. Although individuals may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others may be better helped in the future.

Researchers at NIMH and around the country conduct many studies with patients and healthy volunteers. We have new and better treatment options today because of what clinical trials uncovered years ago. Be part of tomorrow’s medical breakthroughs. Talk to your health care provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you.

To learn more or find a study, visit:

Learn More

Free Brochures and Shareable Resources

Research and Statistics

Multimedia

Last Revised: February 2016

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Eating Disorders

Overview

There is a commonly held misconception that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are actually serious and often fatal illnesses that are associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Preoccupation with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Anorexia nervosa

People with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. People with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, severely restrict the amount of food they eat, often exercise excessively, and/or may force themselves to vomit or use laxatives to lose weight. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. While many people with this disorder die from complications associated with starvation, others die of suicide.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Symptoms include:

  • Extremely restricted eating
  • Extreme thinness (emaciation)
  • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight

Other symptoms may develop over time, including:

  • Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Mild anemia and muscle wasting and weakness
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Dry and yellowish skin
  • Growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure slowed breathing and pulse
  • Damage to the structure and function of the heart
  • Brain damage
  • Multiorgan failure
  • Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
  • Infertility

Bulimia nervosa

People with bulimia nervosa have recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. This binge-eating is followed by behavior that compensates for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors. People with bulimia nervosa may be slightly underweight, normal weight, or over overweight.

Symptoms include:

  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
  • Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid
  • Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
  • Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
  • Electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium, and other minerals) which can lead to stroke or heart attack

Binge-eating disorder

People with binge-eating disorder lose control over his or her eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.

Symptoms include:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as a 2-hour period
  • Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
  • Eating fast during binge episodes
  • Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
  • Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about your eating
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

Risk Factors

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, body weights, and genders. Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life. These disorders affect both genders, although rates among women are higher than among men. Like women who have eating disorders, men also have a distorted sense of body image.

Researchers are finding that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors. Researchers are using the latest technology and science to better understand eating disorders.

One approach involves the study of human genes. Eating disorders run in families. Researchers are working to identify DNA variations that are linked to the increased risk of developing eating disorders.

Brain imaging studies are also providing a better understanding of eating disorders. For example, researchers have found differences in patterns of brain activity in women with eating disorders in comparison with healthy women. This kind of research can help guide the development of new means of diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders.

Treatments and Therapies

It is important to seek treatment early for eating disorders. People with eating disorders are at higher risk for suicide and medical complications. People with eating disorders can often have other mental disorders (such as depression or anxiety) or problems with substance use. Complete recovery is possible.

Treatment plans are tailored to individual needs and may include one or more of the following:

  • Individual, group, and/or family psychotherapy
  • Medical care and monitoring
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Medications

Psychotherapies

Psychotherapies such as a family-based therapy called the Maudsley approach, where parents of adolescents with anorexia nervosa assume responsibility for feeding their child, appear to be very effective in helping people gain weight and improve eating habits and moods.

To reduce or eliminate binge-eating and purging behaviors, people may undergo cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is another type of psychotherapy that helps a person learn how to identify distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns and recognize and change inaccurate beliefs.

Medications

Evidence also suggests that medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers may also be helpful for treating eating disorders and other co-occurring illnesses such as anxiety or depression. Check the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website: (http://www.fda.gov/), for the latest information on warnings, patient medication guides, or newly approved medications.

Join a Study

Clinical trials are research studies that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe. Although individuals may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others may be better helped in the future.

Researchers at NIMH and around the country conduct many studies with patients and healthy volunteers. We have new and better treatment options today because of what clinical trials uncovered years ago. Be part of tomorrow’s medical breakthroughs. Talk to your health care provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you.

To learn more or find a study, visit:

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Research and Statistics

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Last Revised: February 2016

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

 

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PTSD

Some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear is a part of the body’s normal “fight-or-flight” response, which helps us avoid or respond to potential danger. People may experience a range of reactions after trauma, and most will recover from their symptoms over time. Those who continue to experience symptoms may be diagnosed with PTSD.

Who develops PTSD?

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. This includes combat veterans as well as people who have experienced or witnessed a physical or sexual assault, abuse, an accident, a disaster, a terror attack, or other serious events. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are no longer in danger.

Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. In some cases, learning that a relative or close friend experienced trauma can cause PTSD.

According to the National Center for PTSD, a program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about seven or eight of every 100 people will experience PTSD in their lifetime. Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD. Certain aspects of the traumatic event and some biological factors (such as genes) may make some people more likely to develop PTSD.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within 3 months of the traumatic incident, but they sometimes emerge later. To meet the criteria for PTSD, symptoms must last longer than 1 month, and they must be severe enough to interfere with aspects of daily life, such as relationships or work. The symptoms also must be unrelated to medication, substance use, or other illness.

The course of the illness varies: Although some people recover within 6 months, others have symptoms that last for a year or longer. People with PTSD often have co-occurring conditions, such as depression, substance use, or one or more anxiety disorders.

After a dangerous event, it is natural to have some symptoms or even to feel detached from the experience, as though you are observing things rather than experiencing them. A health care provider—such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker—who has experience helping people with mental illnesses can determine whether symptoms meet the criteria for PTSD.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least 1 month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
  • At least one avoidance symptom
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms

  • Flashbacks—reliving the traumatic event, including physical symptoms such as a racing heart or sweating
  • Reoccurring memories or dreams related to the event
  • Distressing thoughts
  • Physical signs of stress

Thoughts and feelings can trigger these symptoms, as can words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event.

Avoidance symptoms

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event

Avoidance symptoms may cause people to change their routines. For example, after a serious car accident, a person may avoid driving or riding in a car.

Arousal and reactivity symptoms

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense, on guard, or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Feeling irritable and having angry or aggressive outbursts
  • Engaging in risky, reckless, or destructive behavior

Arousal symptoms are often present—they can lead to feelings of stress and anger and may interfere with parts of daily life, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

Cognition and mood symptoms

  • Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
  • Distorted thoughts about the event that cause feelings of blame
  • Ongoing negative emotions, such as fear, anger, guilt, or shame
  • Loss of interest in previous activities
  • Feelings of social isolation
  • Difficulty feeling positive emotions, such as happiness or satisfaction

Cognition and mood symptoms can begin or worsen after the traumatic event and can lead a person to feel detached from friends or family members.

How do children and teens react to trauma?

Children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as those seen in adults. In young children under the age of 6, symptoms can include:

  • Wetting the bed after having learned to use the toilet
  • Forgetting how or being unable to talk
  • Acting out the scary event during playtime
  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult

Older children and teens usually show symptoms more like those seen in adults. They also may develop disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviors. Older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injury or deaths. They also may have thoughts of revenge.

For more information, see the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) brochure, Helping Children and Adolescents Cope With Disasters and Other Traumatic Events.

Why do some people develop PTSD and other people do not?

Not everyone who lives through a dangerous event develops PTSD—many factors play a part. Some of these factors are present before the trauma; others become important during and after a traumatic event.

Risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing of PTSD include:

  • Exposure to dangerous events or traumas
  • Getting hurt or seeing people hurt or killed
  • Childhood trauma
  • Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
  • Having little or no social support after the event
  • Dealing with extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home
  • Having a personal history or family history of mental illness or substance use

Resilience factors that may reduce the likelihood of developing PTSD include:

  • Seeking out support from friends, family, or support groups
  • Learning to feel okay with one’s actions in response to a traumatic event
  • Having a coping strategy for getting through and learning from a traumatic event
  • Being prepared and able to respond to upsetting events as they occur, despite feeling fear

 

How is PTSD treated?

It is important for anyone with PTSD symptoms to work with a mental health professional who has experience treating PTSD. The main treatments are psychotherapy, medications, or both. An experienced mental health professional can help people find the treatment plan that meets their symptoms and needs.

Some people with PTSD may be living through an ongoing trauma, such as being in an abusive relationship. In these cases, treatment is usually most effective when it addresses both the traumatic situation and the symptoms. People who have PTSD or who are exposed to trauma also may experience panic disorder, depression, substance use, or suicidal thoughts. Treatment for these conditions can help with recovery after trauma. Research shows that support from family and friends also can be an important part of recovery.

For tips to help prepare and guide you on how to talk to your health care provider about your mental health and get the most out of your visit, read NIMH’s fact sheet, Taking Control of Your Mental Health: Tips for Talking With Your Health Care Provider.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, sometimes called “talk therapy,” includes a variety of treatment techniques that mental health professionals use to help people identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Psychotherapy can provide support, education, and guidance to people with PTSD and their families. This type of treatment can occur one on one or in a group and usually lasts 6 to 12 weeks but can last longer.

Some types of psychotherapy target PTSD symptoms, and others focus on social, family, or job-related problems. Effective psychotherapies tend to emphasize a few key components, including learning skills to help identify triggers and manage symptoms.

One common type of psychotherapy, called cognitive behavioral therapy, can include exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring.

  • Exposure therapy helps people learn to manage their fear by gradually exposing them, in a safe way, to the trauma they experienced. As part of exposure therapy, people may think or write about the trauma or visit the place where it happened. This therapy can help people with PTSD reduce symptoms that cause them distress.
  • Cognitive restructuring helps people make sense of the traumatic event. Sometimes people remember the event differently than how it happened, or they may feel guilt or shame about something that is not their fault. Cognitive restructuring can help people with PTSD think about what happened in a realistic way.

You can learn more about different types of psychotherapy on the NIMH website.

Medications

The most studied type of medication for treating PTSD is a type of antidepressant medication called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs may help control PTSD symptoms such as sadness, worry, anger, and feeling emotionally numb. SSRIs and other medications may be prescribed along with psychotherapy. Other medications may help address specific PTSD symptoms, such as sleep problems and nightmares.

Health care providers and patients can work together to find the best medication or combination of medications, as well as the right dose. Check the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website for the latest information on patient medication guides, warnings, or newly approved medications.

How can I find help?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator, an online tool for finding mental health services and treatment programs in your state. For additional resources, visit NIMH’s Help for Mental Illnesses webpage.

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the toll-free TTY number at 1-800-799-4TTY (4889). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741).

What can I do to help myself?

It is important to know that, although it may take some time, you can get better with treatment. Here are some things you can do to help yourself:

  • Talk with your health care provider about treatment options, and follow your treatment plan.
  • Engage in exercise, mindfulness, or other activities that help reduce stress.
  • Try to maintain routines for meals, exercise, and sleep.
  • Set realistic goals and do what you can as you are able.
  • Spend time with trusted friends or relatives, and tell them about things that may trigger symptoms.
  • Expect your symptoms to improve gradually, not immediately.
  • Avoid use of alcohol or drugs.

How can I help a friend or relative who has PTSD?

If you know someone who may be experiencing PTSD, the most important thing you can do is to help that person get the right diagnosis and treatment. Some people may need help making an appointment with their health care provider; others may benefit from having someone accompany them to their health care visits.

If a close friend or relative is diagnosed with PTSD, you can encourage them to follow their treatment plan. If their symptoms do not get better after 6 to 8 weeks, you can encourage them to talk to their health care provider. You also can:

  • Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
  • Learn about PTSD so you can understand what your friend is experiencing.
  • Listen carefully. Pay attention to the person’s feelings and the situations that may trigger PTSD symptoms.
  • Share positive distractions, such as walks, outings, and other activities.

Where can I find more information on PTSD?

The National Center for PTSD, a program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is the leading federal center for research and education on PTSD and traumatic stress. You can find information about PTSD, treatment options, and getting help, as well as additional resources for families, friends, and providers.

What should I know about participating in clinical research?

Clinical trials are research studies that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions. Although individuals may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others may be better helped in the future.

Researchers at NIMH and around the country conduct many studies with patients and healthy volunteers. Talk to your health care provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you. For more information, visit NIMH’s clinical trials webpage.

Reprints

This publication is in the public domain and may be reproduced or copied without permission from NIMH. Citation of NIMH as a source is appreciated. To learn more about using NIMH publications, visit our reprint guidelines.

For More Information

MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine) (En español)

ClinicalTrials.gov (En español)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
National Institutes of Health
NIH Publication No. 20-MH-8124
Revised 2020

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