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Appetite Suppressants and Eating Disorders

Studies have shown that 64% of individuals with eating disorders also abuse over the counter and prescription diet pills. Diet pills, also known as appetite suppressants or weight loss pills, can increase unsafe physical symptoms and effects associated with eating disorders and further complicate already dangerous behaviors such as purging, over-exercise, or restrictive eating.

Many times people do not consider diet pills as a substance that can be addictive, but diet pills often contain chemicals, such as stimulants, which are known to increase alertness, attention, and energy. Stimulants can also elevate blood pressure, heart rate and respiration and are typically prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. Diet pills include both prescription and over the counter supplements, which are used to typically reduce or control weight through suppressing appetite, increasing metabolism, reducing fat absorption, and increasing energy.

Prescription appetite suppressants on the market

There are several types of diet pills within these classifications, which include, benzphetamine, diethylpropion, mazindol, and phentermine.

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  • Benzphetamine: also known as Didrex, is considered an anorectic diet pill. This type of diet pills is closely related to amphetamines and functions to reduce appetite in obese individuals.
  • Diethylpropion: also known as Tenuate or Tepanil is prescribed on a short-term basis to suppress appetite.
  • Mazindol: typically sold as Mazanor or Sanorex, is only approved for use in the treatment of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Mazindol prescriptions are typically abused for appetite suppressive properties.
  • Phentermine: also known as Adipex or Lonamin, reduces appetite and is used to reduce weight in overweight individuals on a short-term basis.

Non-prescription appetite suppressants on the market

  • Garcinia Cambogia
  • Caffeine based supplements
  • Lipozene
  • Orlistat (Xenical or Alli)

Nicotine as an appetite suppressant

The idea that cigarette smoking is helpful in controlling body weight has been part of popular culture for many decades; dating back to 1930s advertisements that suggested women could smoke to help curb cravings for sweets. Nicotine, the main component of cigarettes, is thought to release neurochemicals in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which work to suppress appetite and facilitate weight loss. A study completed by the University of North Carolina Department of Psychiatry found that subjects with eating disorders of any type, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and purging disorder, had increased rates of smoking and higher nicotine dependence compared to controls

Trends that should be carefully observed among smokers include:

  • The use of cigarettes in place of food and/or eating
  • Frequent cigarette breaks during and/or after meals
  • Using cigarettes to “curb” cravings for certain foods
  • Avoiding social events due to time spent smoking

The dangers of appetite suppressants in individuals with eating disorders

Appetite suppressants whether they are over the counter, by prescription, natural or chemical based; each have their own set of individual side effects. Additionally appetite suppressants can become addictive especially in individuals who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, as these individuals are more likely to have compulsive and impulsive personality traits, which make them more prone to developing an addiction with substances.  Substance abuse is generally thought to involve harmful drugs such as opioids, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol however since appetite suppressants are stimulants; they too, can be placed in the same category as “abused substances”. Eating disorders can be complicated by substance abuse and many treatment centers work to diagnose co-occurring conditions in individuals who are seeking treatment for their eating disorders. Co-occurring conditions are characterized by a combination of two or more mental health disorders, eating disorders and/or substance abuse disorders.

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