Drunkorexia: An Alarming Trend Sweeping College Campuses

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Drunkorexia is a new trend that has been becoming increasingly popular on college campuses. Those experiencing drunkorexia limit their nutritional calorie intake and replace food consumption with alcohol consumption. A person might begin skipping meals to compensate for the calories gained from drinking alcohol. Drunkorexia is a slang term for anorexia or bulimia in conjunction with alcohol use disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anorexia nervosa is defined as restricting, or limiting food in a severe manner. This food restriction is present even when the individual is underweight. (1) Bulimia nervosa is the act of binge eating, or eating excessively, followed by fasting, purging, or excessive exercising. (2) Alcohol use disorder is defined as alcohol intake that is difficult to control, affecting relational, occupational, and other important areas of life. The combination of these three different mental health disorders make up the dangerous colloquialism that is drunkorexia.

Though drunkorexia is not an official diagnosis, researchers are beginning to investigate the link between eating disorders and alcohol dependence. If you or a loved one engage in chronic alcohol use, treatment may be beneficial. Our dual diagnosis treatment is catered for those experiencing an eating disorder and alcohol use disorder simultaneously. Asking for help when it comes to an addiction can be tough, but you are not alone. Here at Guardian Recovery, we believe in providing comprehensive care to meet your treatment needs. Contact us today for more information.

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What Research Says About Drunkorexia

Research on drunkorexia is relatively new, however, 80% of young adult drinkers have engaged in it. (3) Research has found that low self-esteem regarding the body, and the need to seek out new and complex experiences is a predictor of drunkorexia. (4) Drinking alcohol and wanting to experience intoxication in a short period of time has also been found to be a motivator in experiencing drunkorexia. (5)

Eating disorders are often more common in women. Bulimia nervosa is five times more likely to occur in women than men. (6) Anorexia nervosa is three times more likely to occur in women than men. (7) A study found that motivation to control weight contributed to why women engaged in drunkorexia more than men. (8) This aligns with the statistics regarding eating disorders as a whole. Though drunkorexia has been found to be more common in women, it is still prevalent in men. A study done on college students found that men did engage in excessive exercise or dieting to reduce calories gained from drinking. (9) Another study utilizing college students identified that comparing one’s body to others, exercising behaviors, and believing that symptoms related to drunkorexia were normal, were all predictors of drunkorexia. (10)

Drunkorexia Isn’t Just About Drinking

Drunkorexia is not just about drinking. Young adults, specifically women, associate binge drinking and dieting as a form of weight loss. (11) Depression, anxiety, and stress have also been found to be correlated with behaviors associated with drunkorexia. (12) These negative emotional feelings are often associated with a fear of losing weight, which has been found to be a predictor of drunkorexia. (13)

Negative body image, or negative thoughts and feelings associated with one’s body plays a big role in drunkorexia. (14) Wanting to maintain unrealistic body standards, calorie counting, and emphasizing the importance of appearance can encourage individuals to engage in drunkorexia. Research has shown that body dissatisfaction has been found in individuals even before they reach adulthood. A study done with 1,200 adolescents found that 77.6 percent were dissatisfied with some part of their body. (15) Higher body mass indexes, pressures to be thin, and feelings of depression were associated with body image issues. The desire to improve body shape and appearance is often the motivator in eating related disorders.

Alcohol culture in our society is a factor in the increasing rates of drunkorexia. 25% of adults engage in binge drinking weekly, with approximately 2,300 individuals dying every year from alcohol poisoning. (16) Social and cultural factors influence drinking rates in America. Alcohol is also heavily exposed throughout the media, from television, advertisements, and social media. (17) This leads to individuals developing positive beliefs regarding drinking and social environments where alcohol use is acceptable.

Drunkorexia is found to be common within the college greek life. Members within sororities and fraternities who develop close friendships with one another, often display similar drinking behaviors. (18) This includes the frequency and amount of alcohol consumed. Social networks and acceptance seem to play a role in the participation of drunkorexia.

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Health Effects of Drunkorexia

Drunkorexia can produce many negative health effects. Chronic and excessive alcohol use, and binge drinking all have their own set of negative side effects. Negative side effects associated with chronic or daily alcohol use include:

Like alcohol use disorder, eating disorders also can affect the body negatively. Negative symptoms associated with eating disorders include:

  • Swollen arms and legs
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Anemia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Joint problems

With there being negative health effects associated with alcohol use and eating disorders separately, there is no wonder why drunkorexia produces such detrimental side effects to the body. Consuming alcohol on an empty stomach can increase impairment levels and how long alcohol stays in your system. Symptoms associated with the health effects caused by drunkorexia include: (19)

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Diabetes
  • Alcohol related damage to the brain
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Dementia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Suicidal ideation

This negative drinking and eating pattern can increase the risk of dangerous behaviors such as drinking and driving, and promiscuous behaviors. Drunkorexia is a serious health concern, increasing the risk of alcohol use disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Keeping your body healthy is important in maintaining your overall wellness. Drunkorexia can cause detrimental physical and psychological effects. There are specific signs and symptoms that can help you identify if you or a loved one are experiencing drunkorexia. These include:

  • Eating little throughout the day.
  • Binge drinking.
  • Dental impairments due to purging.
  • Counting calories.
  • Excessive exercising.
  • Extreme or constant dieting.
  • Mood fluctuations due to limited nutritional intake.
  • Continuing to engage in alcohol use despite feeling sick.

The combination of these symptoms indicate drunkorexia, however separately, they may be indicators of drinking and eating patterns that are detrimental to one’s health. Some symptoms, such as dieting may be more socially acceptable than others. This can make it difficult to recognize if you or a loved one are engaging in disordered eating or drinking. It is important to acknowledge that the behaviors related to drunkorexia exist on a spectrum.

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If you suspect that you may be experiencing drunkorexia, awareness is one of the first steps towards recovery. Monitoring how much you are consuming alcohol, compared to your food intake, can help you identify if a problem exists. If you are engaging in alcohol use more than you are eating food, treatment may be beneficial. Guardian Recovery can help you develop adaptive coping strategies to replace unhealthy drinking or eating behaviors. With individualized, evidence-based, and holistic treatment options, maintaining positive habits is achievable. Contact us for a free, no obligation insurance benefits check, and to begin embarking on your recovery journey today.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders
  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders
  3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160627100223.htm
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8292268/
  5. https://our.unc.edu/abstract/humphrey-an-investigation-of-changes-in-eating-behaviors-before-alcohol-consumption-in-college-students/
  6. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/eating-disorders
  7. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/eating-disorders
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25102366/
  9. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160627100223.htm
  10. https://www.psypost.org/2022/03/new-study-identifies-two-risk-factors-related-to-drunkorexia-62720
  11. https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(19)30199-0/fulltext
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8553592/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8553592/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6928134/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6324036/
  16. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4872611/
  18. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_etd/send_file/send?accession=miami164995183977313&disposition=inline
  19. https://www.psychreg.org/drunkorexia-dangerous-health/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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