Dealing with Body Dysmorphic Disorders and Addiction

In recent years you may have begun to hear the term body dysmorphia. This term can be seen seemingly everywhere on the internet or social media these days. But what is body dysmorphia? And what does it have to do with addiction?

In America, one of the most underreported mental health issues is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Cases of BDD, also commonly known as body dysmorphia, range in severity. Similar to many mental illnesses, the condition gets worse over time without intervention or treatment. There is even a risk of developing an addiction when BDD is left untreated. This is why we’re breaking down what body dysmorphia is exactly and what it has to do with addiction. 

What is Body Dysmorphia?

BDD or body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health condition that causes an impairing preoccupation with perceived bodily flaws. Those who suffer from BDD are prone to finding what they consider to be physical defects, and then fixating on them. This causes immense feelings of distress for the person suffering from body dysmorphia. 

These flaws are often minor and not noticed by others. Yet, someone suffering from body dysmorphia becomes consumed by these flaws, and in many cases, is unable to simply stop thinking about them. As a result, this can lead to extreme feelings of shame, embarrassment, and anxiety that keep a person from participating fully in their own life. For example, someone with BDD may avoid any situation where they believe their flaw will be noticed by others. 

Symptoms of Body Dysmorphia

BDD presents differently depending on the person, the type of BDD they suffer from, and the perceived flaw they are fixating on. If you’re wondering what is body dysmorphia or whether you or a loved one is suffering from it, some common signs and symptoms of BDD include the following:

  • Excessive grooming
  • Destructive skin picking
  • Frequently checking mirrors
  • Frequently comparing your appearance to others 
  • Engaging in excessive behaviors to fix or hide the perceived flaw
  • Seeking cosmetic procedures over and over to fix the perceived flaw
  • Avoiding social situations to prevent people from seeing a perceived flaw
  • Constantly seeking reassurance about your appearance or the perceived flaw from others
  • Trying to hide the perceived flaw through extreme measures, such as with clothing or makeup
  • Frequent beliefs that others are mocking you for your appearance or taking special notice of your defects
  • An extreme preoccupation with a perceived flaw in appearance which in reality is minor or not noticed by others

The exact cause of BDD is not currently known. Exposure to repeated feelings of incompetence and shame during childhood is highly correlated with the disorder, though. While research is currently limited, there are links to many different factors that are genetic, neurological, or psychosocial in nature. 

Types of Body Dysmorphia

We’ve broken down the facts to answer the question: what is body dysmorphia? However, it doesn’t end there. There are different types of body dysmorphia. Specifically, there are two variations of this disorder that differ greatly when it comes to symptoms. The first is Muscle Dysmorphia (MD), and the second is body dysmorphic disorder by proxy. 

Muscle Dysmorphia (MD)

Muscle dysmorphia (MD) is the first type of body dysmorphia. It includes obsessive thoughts or beliefs about one’s self and body surrounding muscle mass. People with MD usually engage in muscle building or weight lifting and are prone to thinking that they are smaller than they actually are. As a result, this disorder is sometimes referred to as “reverse anorexia” because those who suffer from it want to become larger. 

Symptoms of MD include:

  • Counting calories to the point of obsession 
  • Intrusive and obsessive thoughts about one’s body 
  • Avoiding eating out with friends to control caloric intake
  • Using anabolic steroids to increase muscle mass faster 
  • Believing others are negatively evaluating one’s appearance
  • Wearing bulky or larger clothes in order to seem more muscular
  • Working out or lifting weights excessively and for many hours a day
  • Avoiding going to places where their body is revealed, such as the pool or beach

While MD is not considered an eating disorder, some individuals suffering from this type of body dysmorphia have a co-occurring eating disorder. In contrast to most eating disorders, individuals with MD are more likely to painstakingly obsess over their diets in order to improve their muscle mass or the leanness of their muscles. 

Body Dysmorphic Disorder by Proxy (BDDBP)

The second type of body dysmorphia is body dysmorphic disorder by proxy (BDDBP). Most mental health issues have to do with the person who has the disorder. BDDBP, on the other hand, has to do with obsessions over other people’s appearances. An individual with BDDBP fixates on another person’s appearance to the point where it causes significant distress and interferes with their ability to function daily. 

Additional symptoms of BDDBP can include the following:

  • Comparing the person of concern’s appearance to others 
  • Attempting to hide the perceived defects of the person of concern
  • Believing other people take special notice of the perceived defects of the person of concern
  • Spending many hours per day thinking about the perceived flaws of their person of concern
  • Avoiding social situations so other’s don’t notice the perceived flaws of the person of concern
  • Finding oneself preoccupied with constant negative thoughts about a person of concern’s appearance
  • Frequently trying to improve the person of concern’s appearance or reassuring them about their appearance without being asked to
  • Performing repetitive behaviors, referred to as compulsions, to reduce their anxiety or guilt regarding their preoccupation with the person of concern’s appearance

There is usually one person of concern in the mind of a person with BDDBP. This person is usually a spouse or significant other, but may also be a child or parent. The person of concern may change over time, and in some cases, the disorder can be shared by two people in a sort of Folie a Deux. 

Body Dysmophia and Addiciton 

It’s important to note that this disorder doesn’t stop at a preoccupation with perceived physical defects. BDD is a disruptive and debilitating disorder. To cope with the guilt, anxiety, and shame that comes with BDD, many individuals turn to substance abuse. This can lead to developing a co-occurring addiction or substance use disorder (SUD). Drugs commonly used to deal with the symptoms of BDD include: 

  • Alcohol
  • Opiates
  • Cocaine
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Anabolic steroids 
  • Methamphetamines

Addiction can happen to anyone, but mental illnesses can increase a person’s risk of developing an addiction. The amount of emotional duress and anxiety that BDD causes may lead individuals to turn to drugs for relief. 

This is dangerous as using substances to self-medicate can lead to a person being unable to stop taking drugs as time goes on. Consequently, this makes the relief provides by drugs short-lived. Unfortunately, addiction can also exacerbate the symptoms of a mental illness or create new problems to cope with for the individual. 

Dealing with Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Addiction 

Knowing what body dysmorphia is isn’t enough to combat the debilitating effects of the disorder. To resolve the source of false beliefs and correct compulsive behavior, body dysmorphia requires treatment. When BDD is coupled with a SUD or addiction, treatment has to be tailored to address both conditions. As with many addiction treatment programs, the first step is detox. 

Detox is a safe way to have addictive substances expelled from the body. At a detox center like Coastal Detox, we meet the needs of our patients through a three-step program that allows us to evaluate our patients and provide the best care possible. The three steps are as follows:

  • Comprehensive Evaluation
  • Stabilization of the Patient
  • Preparation for Entering and Addiction Treatment Program

Quitting drugs abruptly can be dangerous. This is especially true if a person is addicted to alcohol or opiates. Medical detox allows patients to get off drugs while being monitored by professionals. With the symptoms of withdrawal managed through the detox program, the chances of relapse also decrease significantly for patients. 

How to Help Someone with Body Dysmorphia

It can be upsetting to watch your loved one’s obsessive behaviors and compulsions dictate their happiness. If someone in your life appears to be suffering from body dysmorphia, there are a few ways to help them. 

Ways how to help someone with body dysmorphia include:

  • First, acknowledge their feelings: While you don’t have to agree with any negative views they have regarding their appearance, it’s possible to validate the feelings of someone with BDD. Acknowledging how their obsessive feelings impact their life and how stressful those feelings are is a great way to support your loved one. 
  • Encourage them to seek treatment: Encouraging someone to seek treatment in a compassionate way can be the push they need to get help. 
  • Give them support: Support is important in the life of anyone suffering from a disorder. However, this doesn’t mean agreeing with them whenever they criticize their body. Providing support comes in many forms. You can do a chore for them or run an errand, freeing up time for the individual to seek help or attend therapy sessions. 
  • Lastly, be consistent: Above all, it is important to refrain from engaging in conversations that have to do with their appearance or the appearance of their person of concern. This doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to help boost their confidence. Complimenting your loved one in ways that don’t have anything to do with their appearance can help raise their self-esteem. 

If the person suffering from BDD lives with you, it can be increasingly stressful to manage how their disorder affects you. While no one suffering from a mental disorder means to stress out their loved ones, it does happen. It’s important to seek support for yourself. This can be through individual therapy, support groups, or by talking to a close friend. 

Detoxing with Coastal Detox

If you’re wondering what is body dysmorphia, you may find that you are currently suffering from the disorder. If you or a loved one is living with the anxieties and pressure of BDD and an accompanying addiction, we are here to help. 

Here at Coastal Detox, we provide safe and medically monitored detox that facilitates the recovery process. Give us a call today to start your journey towards an addiction-free future. 


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