Drunkorexia: Educating Our College Students About This Issue

Women College students battling drunkorexia

All About Drunkorexia

Drunkorexia is a common issue among college students, especially within the United States. This is a non-medical term, which occurs when a person combines alcohol with obsessive diet behaviors [1]. These behaviors include food restriction, excessive exercise, and/or binging and purging ultimately to increase the effects of alcohol.

The motive is, someone who drinks on an empty stomach will most likely get drunk faster. Furthermore, this behavior is also being done to reduce calories consumed before, during, and after a drinking event. By engaging in bulimic-type behaviors, patients believe that they are able to compensate for alcohol-related calories.

There are severe consequences to drunkorexia such as reduced inhibition (especially in high-risk behaviors), driving while intoxicated, vitamin depletion, dehydration, and in extreme cases, death [1].

Gender Difference Issues with Drunkorexia

It has been said that women who drink more (in volume and frequency) are more likely to engage in bulimic-type eating disorder behaviors compared to men. However, according to research, there are no significant gender differences in drunkorexia. In some instances, men are more likely to engage in bulimic behavior as well as diet and exercise behaviors to reduce alcohol ingested calories [1].

Regardless of gender, alcohol consumption and frequency, all individuals who engage in compensatory diets or exercise behaviors for the sole purpose of increasing the effects alcohol and/or reducing calorie intake are at high risk of inevitable consequences and complications.

Factors of Influence

Living away from home, stress from school, the transition to college, sports and athletics are just some of the pressures that students face when entering University. Unfortunately, this can lead to drunkorexia behaviors [2]. College students tend to use alcohol and engage in disordered eating practices more often if they:

  • Are athletes
  • Have a drinking history
  • Difficulty coping with negative emotions or situations
  • Already engaging in eating disorder practices
  • Consider drinking and disordered eating behaviors normal practices

Consequences of Drunkorexia

In order to consistently achieve the same alcohol effects, students who engage in drunkorexia may develop a tendency to drink more in every succeeding drinking session. Also, an increase in volume and frequency of their alcohol intake may lead to misconduct and/or a decline in academics.

In some instances, individuals suffering from drunkorexia may lose consciousness, get into physical fights, or engage in risky behavior such as sexual intercourse, sexual assault or drunk driving. Such occurrences can lead to suspensions and expulsions from Universities.

Alarming and Increasing Numbers

Woman battling drunkorexia

Surveys show that students who suffer from drunkorexia have engaged in the behavior at least once per day within a 30-day timeframe. About 80% said to have engaged in one episode within the last three months [3].

Fraternities and sororities have been reported to have the highest number of drunkorexia cases within Universities. Student-athletes are also among those who engage in drunkorexia behaviors (women cases more prevalent than men) [3].

Education: How to fight drunkorexia

  1. Know your limits when it comes to drinking alcohol and stick to it. Take care of your friends. Take care of each other. Be wary of each other’s alcohol tolerance and agree on how much alcohol is ‘too much.’ Always stay hydrated and alternate between non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks. Remember that consuming too much alcohol could lower inhibition, impair judgment and reflexes [4].
  2. Work with a nutritionist on meal planning and healthy eating. There is a difference between losing/controlling weight through a healthy lifestyle and losing/controlling weight by omitting food groups altogether. By working with a professional, you can learn how to listen to your body while maintaining a healthy, balanced meal plan to prevent sickness and malnutrition.
  3. Balance is key. Incorporate exercise, mindfulness, and healthy living in a way that does not overwhelm you. Engage in group activities that are of interest to you and are beneficial to your wellbeing. Go hiking, go biking with a friend, or take a yoga class. All of which can help reduce and manage stress.
  4. Seek professional support for your alcohol or eating behavior concerns. It would be best to take immediate action once you notice that your behaviors are beginning to affect your physical, emotional, and academics negatively. The campus counseling office can (1) help you assess the severity of your issues, (2) give you options for counseling, or (3) refer you to a facility which can provide better care if deemed necessary. Counseling can provide students with therapy intended to address the issues that can lead to drunkorexia such as addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, depression and stress management.

Reach out to available support systems such as friends, professors, coaches, counselors, and family. Trust that they are the right people who can assist you in recovery. The key is to work with a treatment team that specializes in the two things that go hand-in-hand with drunkorexia – alcohol and eating disorders.

Cited Sources:

[1] Drunkorexia 101: Increasing Alcohol’s Effects Through Diet and Exercise Behaviors. (2016, June 27). Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160627100223.htm
[2] Anderson, P., & Vega, C., MD. (2017). Drunkorexia Serious Problem on College Campuses. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/869561
[3] Marcus, M. B. (2016, July 06). “Drunkorexia” a disturbing trend on college campuses. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/drunkorexia-drinking-alcohol-eating-disorder-college-trend/
[4] Drunkorexia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.csuchico.edu/cadec/alcohol/drunkorexia.shtml

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety, and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.

Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is an Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on October 23, 2018.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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