More and more college students are struggling with a disorder that has been unofficially coined “drunkorexia.”
Though it has yet to be recognized as a diagnosable medical condition, drunkorexia is a very real and extremely dangerous disorder. The term itself represents the harmful combination of disordered eating and heavy alcohol consumption. A 2013 study published in the Journal of American College Health highlights the dangerous links between extreme calorie restriction and alcohol consumption.
Gender Differences Among Drunkorexics
Experts agree that greater alcohol-related consequences are seen among female college students who have been diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia. In fact, research shows that three times as many women reported engaging in drunkorexic behaviors than men. Due to metabolism differences, women also face a higher risk of developing health problems related to binge drinking.
Motivations of the people who practice drunkorexic behaviors include:
- Preventing weight gain
- Getting intoxicated faster
- Saving money that would be spent on food to buy alcohol
Proving Alcohol and Eating Disorders Don’t Mix
Drunkorexics often go without eating all day so they can binge drink at night. Some may induce vomiting – known as purging – after consuming large amounts of alcohol, while others may binge eat after getting drunk and purge thereafter. No matter the ritual, drunkorexia successfully adds alcohol and consequent liver damage to an already unhealthy eating disorder.
In a 2006 study of more than 4,000 college students from 10 universities in North Carolina, 39 percent admitted that they restricted food intake on days they planned to consume alcohol. What’s more, weight control was cited as the most common reason for extreme calorie restriction.
The study also found that the combination of calorie restriction and alcohol has heightened short-term effects among women. Researchers found that drunkorexic females were more likely to experience problems with memory loss, physical injury, and incidents of sexual assault. On the other hand, males who combined alcohol consumption with calorie restriction reported increased likelihood of physical injuries and altercations.
"Consistently displacing food with alcohol has high potential for nutrient deficiencies as alcoholic beverages are a poor source of nutrients," Melissa Hansen-Petrik, director of didactic programs in dietetics at UT-Knoxville, said. "The most common nutrient deficiencies associated with alcoholism include folate and B vitamins... which may contribute to an enhanced risk of some cancers and also adverse neurological effects."
Additional adverse effects of drunkorexia include:
- A slowing of all body processes
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Tooth decay
- Risky sexual behaviors
- Alcohol poisoning
- Substance abuse
- Chronic diseases later in life
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