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Can Medication Help Treat Binge Eating Disorder?

Although it’s a much-debated subject in the ED treatment community, medications can help control symptoms of binge eating disorder and support individuals as they undergo therapy. By using this multi-faceted approach to treatment, the treatment team can apply both psychiatric and therapeutic methodologies to this widespread disorder. People who’ve taken the courageous first step and sought out treatment for BED should be aware of the options they have for recovery, including medication.

Why Should I Consider Medication for BED Treatment?

With the right medications, it is possible to control many of the symptoms caused by binge eating disorder. As with individuals with chronic mental health disorders like depression, a course of psychiatric medication can reduce disordered thoughts and emotions and set a baseline for reasoned CBT or other talk therapy. These medications can also help control co-occurring mental health conditions, removing a potential roadblock to BED recovery. As co-occurring disorders are extremely common in people who have ED, a complete recovery often hinges on appropriately managing those conditions.   

What Are the Types of Medications Used to Treat Binge Eating Disorder?

The staff (especially psychiatrists) at an eating disorder treatment center may use several types of drugs to manage their clients’ recoveries.As part of a comprehensive continuum of care, a new client’s medical history, psychological background,and other factors to determine the best medication to use for their needs. Following the assessment, one of several different types of medication might be used:

Antidepressants 

People with binge eating disorder can take an antidepressant medication daily to help control feelings of hopelessness and urges to binge eat. These medications work by adjusting serotonin and other mood-oriented chemicals in the brain. Through these adjustments compulsions and obsessive thought patterns are lessened, and the urge to binge eat tends to decrease as well.

Depression is one of the most common dual diagnoses with binge eating disorder. The two disorders tend to amplify each other, and in individuals who have both, antidepressants may help control depression, allowing BED to be more effectively treated.

Anti-Seizure Medications

Anti-seizure medication shown some promise in reducing the incidence of disordered thought patterns and behaviors. This medication is not the first choice, however, as it does not adjust brain chemicals nor help treat co-occurring mental health conditions.

Psychiatrists are usually wary to prescribe anti-seizure medications for BED for another reason; they can produce serious side effects affecting sleep, which is troublesome during a focused recovery effort. On the other hand, in some cases, they are highly effective in controlling behaviors, making them a good choice for those who do not respond favorably to the other medication options.

Specialized BED Medication

There have recently been inroads into the development of BED-specific medications like Vyvanse made by major pharmaceutical companies. Although they are put into practice, the side effects can be extreme and people with kidney or liver issues, or may become pregnant, are urged not to use them. These medications are normally a supplementary part of a treatment program that stresses talk therapy rather than the main pillar of a binge eating disorder recovery program.

Using Medications to Support Binge Eating Disorder Therapy

This last part is true not only for BED-specific medications but for any medications as part of a BED treatment program. The program should be centered around mindfulness and talk therapy, not medication.With a stabilizing base provided by antidepressants or other drugs, the therapy sessions can be easier and more conducive for behavior modification. Individuals in treatment can then purposefully challenge the disordered thoughts and behaviors to eliminate them, ceasing the need for symptom control through medication. If medications are prescribed for co-occurring disorders like depression, though, the individual might be encouraged to continue taking them after discharge.

Medication is not always the best choice to treat binge eating disorder or other common eating disorders. Even when the psychiatric member of the care team prescribes medication, a complete spectrum of therapy is necessary to treat BED, including talk therapy, other psychiatric treatment (if needed), and family counseling.  A professional treatment center will make sure the program is tailored for the individual, and that may not include medication.