College students and young adults represent the age group at greatest risk for developing eating disorders and engaging in unhealthy drinking behavior, such as binge drinking. A new trend, dubbed “drunkorexia,” describes what happens when a person combines the two by minimizing food consumption in order to engage in binge drinking later, without worrying about gaining weight due to the calories from the alcohol.
There is an emerging body of academic research on the subject, such as a study of 22,000 college students published in the Journal of American College Health that found that vigorous physical activity and disordered eating habits (vomiting or using laxatives to lose weight) were strong predictors of binge drinking.
Binge Drinking Concerns
The study cites other research indicating that binge drinking college students have more concern about their weight and less satisfaction with their own bodies than non-binge drinkers. Recent studies suggest that as many as 26 percent of college students and young adults engage in drunkorexia.
Another recent study, from the University of Missouri, found that 30 percent of women aged 18 to 23 had skipped a meal in order to drink, and 16 percent do so regularly. Men also engage in this behavior, although they tend to do so either to get drunk faster or to save money.
Drunkorexia An Alarming Trend
Drunkorexia is not yet a medical diagnosis, but it is an alarming trend about which many experts are concerned. There is already a high rate of comorbidity with eating disorders and substance abuse. Among those with eating disorders, substance abuse disorders are four times more common than for the general population.
Unlike many of the dual diagnosis combinations of eating disorders and substance abuse, drunkorexia is a conscious and purposeful behavior where a person alters eating patterns in order to drink. Not only is this behavior problematic on its own, it could also lead to other disordered eating behaviors, addiction or substance abuse problems, other mental health conditions, and chronic medical conditions.
Dangers Of Malnourishment
The body requires a certain amount of nutrients from the diet, and limiting intake of food could cause a person to not consume an adequate amount of nutrients. Most alcoholic drinks are mainly “empty calories,” meaning they offer no nutritional value. If a person consumes the recommended amount of calories in a day, but these calories are largely from alcohol, the person might suffer from health problems due to a lack of nutrients.
When the body is malnourished, it begins to shut down and there is often an imbalance in the body chemistry. This can affect all the major organs, especially the heart and the brain. A person can become sluggish, feel fatigued, their cognitive functions can become impaired, they increase their risk of developing a chronic illness, and their immune system becomes weaker. In extreme cases, a person can die from a lack of nutrients.
Alcohol Creates A Blood Sugar Spike
Additionally, moderate alcohol intake can cause a spike in blood sugar, while drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can actually cause a severe drop in blood sugar. This imbalance in blood sugar can increase the risk of developing diabetes. Drinking alcohol can also cause a person to consume a large number of calories.
Alcohol itself is often high in calories, and it also increases a person’s appetite, making him or her crave unhealthy, carbohydrate-rich foods, which can also lead to diabetes. Heavy drinking also affects the body’s response to insulin, as well as contributes to the development of pancreatitis, both of which also increase the risk of developing diabetes.
Consequences Of Not Eating Before Drinking
Not eating before drinking alcohol also increases the absorption of the alcohol and leads to faster intoxication, which is one reason some people do not eat prior to drinking. However, intoxication can lead to a person making bad choices and engaging in risky behavior.
Additionally, drinking on an empty stomach can lead to a higher blood alcohol level in less time, increase the risk of alcohol poisoning, and other health problems associated with drinking too much, including liver problems. Although these risks exist any time a person engages in binge drinking, doing so on an empty stomach increases the risk of encountering problems.
Drunkorexia’s Connection To Disordered Eating
Another danger of drunkorexia is that it can lead to cycles of binging and purging or other disordered eating, which could lead a person to develop one of the eating disorders listed in the diagnostic manual, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
For example, a person might fast through the day in preparation for a night out, then binge on food while intoxicated. Then, they might try to purge the calories from the alcohol and food consumed through excessively exercising, abusing laxatives, or self-induced vomiting, all symptoms of bulimia.
The most susceptible population to drunkorexia is college-aged females because they experience a lot of peer pressure to be thin and party hard. Instead of engaging in moderation, many female college students are tempted by drunkorexia behavior because they can party and not worry about gaining weight.
Drunkorexia is more dangerous for women because they metabolize alcohol faster, making them more susceptible to not only intoxication, but also addiction and health problems associated with alcohol abuse.
Health Complications Of Drunkorexia
With drunkorexia, a person is in danger of developing the health complications of two major behavioral health disorders: eating disorders and alcoholism. The health problems that occur due to drunkorexia can lead to life-long problems. One should not moderate the amount of food one eats in order to enjoy getting drunk without fearing gaining weight, or even to get drunk faster or save money.
People need to be made aware of the dangers of drunkorexia and prevent the trend from gaining even more momentum. If a person is engaging in such behavior, he or she should get help before it spirals out of control and creates even larger problems.
Sovereign Health Group offers state-of-the-art, evidence based treatment for addiction, eating disorders, mental health disorders, and dual diagnosis.
Our programs combines individual and group therapy and alternative complementary therapeutic activities such as yoga, equine therapy, art therapy, meditation, and music therapy for a holistic approach that reduces the risk of relapse. You can learn more about our programs here, or you can call our Admissions team at 866-264-9778.