Getting over the physical and emotional ravages of bulimia requires more than one recovery tool. Psychotherapeutic medications are often prescribed as part of a multidimensional approach to eating disorder treatment. Medication can provide valuable support for your recovery program by minimizing your impulse to binge eat, by stabilizing your moods and by helping you cope with depression or anxiety. While drugs alone aren’t enough to ensure a full recovery, they can give you the stability you need to stay focused on the healing process.
How Do I Get Medication for Bulimia?
Medication for eating disorder treatment must be prescribed by a doctor and should be taken only under the supervision of your healthcare practitioner or therapist. The best way to get medication for bulimia is to participate in an eating disorder treatment program that also includes psychotherapy, group meetings and nutritional counseling. When you enter a treatment program, your physical and mental health will be evaluated to determine whether pharmacotherapy is right for you. Your treatment team will consider factors such as:
- Whether you have a co-occurring mood disorder, like depression, or an anxiety disorder along with bulimia
- Whether you have co-existing health conditions, like liver disease, heart problems or diabetes
- Whether you are taking any other medications or drugs that might interfere with psychiatric medications
- Whether you have tried unsuccessfully to stop binging and purging without medication in the past
The medications that are prescribed for bulimia usually don’t take effect right away. In the meantime, you’ll need to participate in a course of treatment that includes regular meetings with a therapist and with support groups.
What Types of Medication Are Effective?
Antidepressant medications are the most widely used prescription drugs in bulimia therapy. Specifically, medications that affect your brain’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, are considered to be effective at treating bulimia, according to the National Institutes of Health. Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) make up a family of antidepressants that increase the level of this naturally produced chemical in your brain. In many people who have bulimia, SSRIs help to inhibit the impulse to binge eat and purge. They may also relieve the anxiety, obsessive thoughts and depression associated with bulimia. Examples of SSRIs include:
- Fluoxetine (brand name Prozac): approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of bulimia
- Citalopram (brand name Celexa)
- Sertraline (brand name Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (brand name Paxil)
Tricyclic antidepressants, such as imipramine and nortryptaline, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors may also be helpful in treating bulimia. However, these drugs may have more serious side effects and interactions than drugs in the SSRI family. Choosing the right medication is a complicated, highly individualized process that requires the help of an experienced eating disorders specialist.
Is Medication All I Need to Recover?
Pharmacotherapy should be just one aspect of your recovery program. Your psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist will continue to play a crucial role in the healing process, helping you identify self-defeating thoughts and replace them with healthy new behaviors. Behavioral modification therapy will help you learn how to handle the triggers that drive you to binge eat and purge, while group sessions with other clients will provide valuable emotional support. Treatment for bulimia requires multiple approaches to ensure your recovery. At Futures, we utilize all the tools at our disposal to help you build a life that truly feels worth living.