The pandemic, problematic internet use and eating disorders
Recently, several studies have shown that the pandemic context has led to a significant increase in the number of people living with concurrent mental health and substance use disorders. Confinement orders, along with many changes in social interactions, has directly affected the lives of people living with concurrent disorders. This circumstance has also been associated with an increase of the number of people with dual diagnoses of addiction and eating disorders (ED).
The impact of the pandemic on eating disorders
Eating disorders are a major problem in their own, considering that they present very high morbidity and mortality rates. The pandemic has exacerbated the presence of substance use disorders, such as alcohol, amid people with eating disorders. Among various factors, one possible cause is the synchronous increase in problematic use of social networks.
Social networks: hobby or addiction?
Another adverse effect of the pandemic has been the increase in internet use1. Distancing and confinement have contributed to the use of social networks as a primary means of communication. In some cases, excessive use of the Internet can also be expressed as an addiction: this is cyberaddiction.
As with other substance use disorders, people with ED are more likely to be affected by cyberaddiction. Social networking may be more prevalent among this group of people as an avoidance strategy for negative emotions and as a way of increasing their sense of belonging to a group. A possible exacerbated use, combined with several other sources of stress from the pandemic context, could contribute to the development of an addiction.
A vicious circle
In the same way that people living with an ED have a greater tendency to show signs of cyberaddiction, the problematic use of social networks is also a factor that could potentially contribute to the development of eating disorders. Studies show that exposure to online publications increases body dissatisfaction and reinforce the belief of an ideal body shape. In addition, social networks also contribute to the internalization of certain eating habits, not necessarily healthy or applicable to everyone.
However, it is important to consider that several elements can contribute to the appearance of an eating disorder or to a problematic use of the Internet. As with other types of concurrent disorders, specialized help is needed to assist people affected by such situations. The various projects of the research laboratory directed by Dr. Didier Jutras-Aswad share this perspective and contribute to improve the understanding of concurrent disorders and their underlying mechanisms, which in turn allows to identify the best clinical intervention strategies to adopt in order to improve and expand the treatment options for individuals living with a concurrent disorder problem.
1 Rodgers, R. F., Lombardo, C., Cerolini, S., Franko, D. L., Omori, M., Fuller‐Tyszkiewicz, M., Linardon, J., Courtet, P., & Guillaume, S. (2020). The impact of the COVID‐19 pandemic on eating disorder risk and symptoms. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 53(7), 1166–1170. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.23318
2 Ioannidis, K., Hook, R. W., Wiedemann, A., Bhatti, J., Czabanowska, K., Roman-Urrestarazu, A., Grant, J. E., Goodyer, I. M., Fonagy, P., Bullmore, E. T., Jones, P. B., & Chamberlain, S. R. (2022). Associations between COVID-19 pandemic impact, dimensions of behavior and eating disorders: A longitudinal UK-based study. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 115, 152304. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.comppsych.2022.152304
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4 Ali, A. M., Hendawy, A. O., Abd Elhay, E. S., Ali, E. M., Alkhamees, A. A., Kunugi, H., & Hassan, N. I. (2022). The Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale: its psychometric properties and invariance among women with eating disorders. BMC Women’s Health, 22(1).
5 Jahan, I., Hosen, I., al Mamun, F., Kaggwa, M. M., Griffiths, M. D., & Mamun, M. A. (2021). How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted Internet Use Behaviors and Facilitated Problematic Internet Use? A Bangladeshi Study. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, Volume 14, 1127–1138. https://doi.org/10.2147/prbm.s323570