Are There Medications for Eating Disorders?
According to research there has yet to be a clear indication that eating disorders can be successfully and unequivocally treated by medication.
Medication, can however, help with regulating some of the side effects that occur as a result of an eating disorder. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for a teen struggling with an eating disorder to also suffer from additional mental health disorders (such as anxiety and/ or depression) that can be treated with medication. While there are medications that can help an individual manage symptoms associated with his or her eating disorder, it is imperative to know that medication is not a quick fix. When deemed appropriate and prescribed by a medical professional, medication should be used in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are three main types of eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa is when a teen limits his or her food intake to the point of starvation, making his or her body unable to function properly or maintain a healthy weight. Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that involves habitually overeating (bingeing) typically followed by purging (i.e. vomiting). The third most common type of eating disorder is known as binge eating disorder (BED). Teens with binge eating disorder will excessively overeat in one sitting and experience out of control eating habits. Binge eaters make very little or no attempt to compensate for their overeating, which can lead to obesity.
Medications for Anorexia Nervosa
There is currently no medication approved by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) for the treatment of anorexia nervosa. Should medication be prescribed to a teen in direct relation to his or her anorexia, it is typically done so as a weight gaining method. Occasionally medications may be prescribed to help treat depression and/ or anxiety that also presents in a teen with anorexia.
Medications for Bulimia Nervosa
Studies have found that psychiatric medications can be helpful for the treatment of bulimia nervosa. The primary goal when treating a teen suffering from bulimia is to stop the cycle of bingeing and purging. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are the most commonly used type of psychiatric medication prescribed to people recovering from bulimia. The only medication that is approved by the FDA for the treatment of bulimia nervosa is the SSRI known as Prozac (also known as Fluoxetine).
Medications for Binge Eating Disorder
There are three types of medications that have been studied in regards to the treatment of binge eating disorder. The first medication the FDA approved as treatment from binge eating disorder is called Vyvanse (also known as lisdexamfetamine), which is also commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Antidepressants, namely SSRIs (i.e. Prozac) have been said to be helpful in diminishing the frequency of binge eating episodes. Antiseizure medications (such as Topiramate) have also been noted to reduce the frequency of bingeing episodes.
In addition to the plethora of possible short and long-term effects associated with eating disorders, it is essential to keep in mind that if left untreated, an eating disorder can literally cost a person his or her life. The longer an individual endures an eating disorder and goes without treatment, the more physiological damage he or she may cause and the more challenging his or her recovery process may be. There is no harm in obtaining information on eating disorders and/ or eating disorder treatment options. When in doubt, get help.
For Information and Support
Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.
Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family.
Davis, Haley, and Evelyn Attia. 2017. “Pharmacotherapy of Eating Disorders.” Current Opinion in Psychiatry 30 (6): 452–57.
Gorla, Kiranmai, and Maju Mathews. 2005. “Pharmacological Treatment of Eating Disorders.” Psychiatry (Edgmont) 2 (6): 43–48.
Sysko, Robyn, Nanshi Sha, Yuanjia Wang, Naihua Duan, and B. Timothy Walsh. 2010. “Early Response to Antidepressant Treatment in Bulimia Nervosa.” Psychological Medicine 40 (6).