When an alcohol use disorder is combined with disordered eating behaviors, it can be a recipe for disaster. Drunkorexia is a term characterizing the replacement of meals with alcohol. While the term is not clinically appropriate, people use this term to refer to behaviors including skipping meals, excessively exercising and purging food as a way to negate the calories consumed from drinking alcohol.
Although the DSM V does not recognize drunkorexia as a formal eating disorder nor an alcohol abuse disorder, drunkorexia is widely recognized by the mental healthcare and eating disorder community as hazardous behavior.
Drunkorexia: A Worrisome Trend
Drunkorexia is a major concern for young adults. Eating less and drinking more is becoming a popular trend among young adults who enjoy socializing but who want to maintain a super thin figure. A study showed that eight out of 10 college students, many of whom were males, recently engaged in at least one behavior associated with drunkorexia.
And it’s not just the college kids. Studies have shown that approximately 30 percent of women in their early twenties are skipping meals so they can drink more. Drinking on an empty stomach not only raises your blood alcohol content at a faster rate but also can lead to dangerous alcohol-associated behaviors such as driving under the influence, violent assaults and uninhibited behaviors.
Drunkorexia is risky behavior.
Here’s why drunkorexia is so dangerous: if an individual is not getting enough calories from food, but they are getting calories from alcohol, they are getting a lot of empty calories. The result is a high risk for dehydration, vitamin depletion and other physical and mental health issues.
Those engaging in reduced eating and increased drinking may also be at risk for binge drinking, which is usually classified as four or more drinks in two hours for women or five or more drinks in two hours for men. On top of all that, drunkorexia is also known to increase the risk of developing an alcohol abuse disorder or eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa.
Drunkorexia leads to higher rates of these serious health concerns compared to people who drink and eat an appropriate amount of food beforehand.
- Alcohol poisoning
- Alcohol-related brain damage
In the long term, the risk for alcohol-related health conditions is increased, such as
- Liver disease
- Cardiac problems
Students engaging in this dangerous behavior are also at increased risk for unprotected sex, sexual assault, DUIs and hospitalization.
Because drunkorexia is so unhealthy for the body, it affects one’s physical appearance. Alcohol eats up the body’s vitamins and nutrients, quickening the aging process. Reducing calories combined with binge drinking leads to anemic, acne-prone skin, nails and hair that are brittle and thin, dizziness, abdominal bloating and constipation. Drunkorexia might keep you from gaining weight, but in the end, a malnourished body means an unhealthy appearance.
Signs of Drunkorexia
Drinking on an empty stomach does make it easier to get drunk, and for many, alcohol can seem like a fun and exciting way to manage stress. While many falsely believe that getting drunk faster and consuming fewer calories is a win-win situation, it can harm the body over time.
If you are someone you care about has been drinking more and eating less, pay attention to their other behaviors, thoughts and habits. If you see any of the following symptoms, express your concern or seek treatment.
- Worrying excessively about weight gain and body image
- Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals to engage in self-induced vomiting
- Engaging in extreme diets and excessive exercise regimens
- Using laxative or diuretics to lose weight
- Eating excessive amounts of food in two hours followed by feelings of guilt
- Low-self esteem
- Poor coping skills
- Inadequate feelings of being accepted
- Fear of losing control
One may start out with a single episode of drunkorexia, skipping a meal in order to drink a lot later that night. But this behavior can easily become a slippery slope to developing an eating disorder or an alcohol use disorder.
At Center for Discovery, our clinicians are well-versed in working with young adults who have been struggling with eating disorders, alcohol use and other mental health symptoms. We celebrate diversity and welcome all who need our help. Contact us to learn more about our services.