Drunkorexia: Signs, Symptoms, and Prevalence on College Campuses

young college student abusing alcohol

Contributor: Debra M. Cooper, BS, graduate of Arizona State University, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

College is intended to be a season of learning and growth, new relationships and experiences as well as a dedicated time for deciding the course of one’s future. While all this remains true, the college experience can be profoundly damaged, even destroyed, due to alcohol.

There is nothing new about alcohol use in college; however, what is new is the commonality of binge drinking, which is consuming a tremendous amount of alcohol with the exclusive intention of becoming intoxicated quickly.

The quintessential example of this activity is the “golden hour,” which translates into the hour after midnight when a student turns 21. In 60 minutes, the goal is to consume 21 shots of alcohol.


Another phenomenon currently found on college campuses is that of drunkorexia. While binge-drinking is in no way gender-specific, drunkorexia is a practice peculiar to females. This term is used to describe a combination of extreme food restriction, bulimia and alcoholism; basically, it is a term for a female who starves herself throughout the day, then drinks to excess at night.

girl-drinkingThose who engage in this practice rarely suffer from anorexia. This is because A female with anorexia tends to avoid alcohol consumption altogether. Even if she eats nothing during the day, the high caloric content of alcohol is too frightening. Additionally, the fear of losing control is enormous. Rigid control is essential to maintaining anorexia. Alcohol may lead to a relaxation of this rigidity and she may fall victim to the allure of food.

For myriad reasons, a female with bulimia is much more likely to fall into the category of drunkorexia. In fact, alcohol may play a significant role in her binge-purge cycle. In addition to eating huge quantities of food, she drinks excessively. Not only does she experience the mood altering effects of alcohol, but also the large amount of fluid helps her in the purge process. After purging, she may drink more to sustain the high of intoxication.

hungover girlAmy Wasserbauer, Ph.D., CEDS works with university students through her private practice, Renewed Hope, Counseling and Psychological Services, in Phoenix, AZ. Previously, she worked for ten years as an assistant clinical director at a residential center that treated females with addictions and disorders. “The relationship between alcohol and bulimia is very complex and the two parallel one another.

A female will drink excessively to numb painful emotion, and then she purges to rid herself of calories,” Amy explained. “A reciprocal response then occurs. As a reaction to the vomiting, her brain releases soothing, calming chemicals, which feels good. Subsequently, she may begin routinely purging food to obtain that same reinforcement.”

The Need for Treatment

Drunkorexia has serious immediate as well as long-term negative consequences. Any time a young woman achieves that level of intoxication, she is at risk, for sexual assault and alcohol poisoning to name only a few of the possible consequences. The medical ramifications are alarming.

Counselor speaking with girlAlcohol consists of empty calories; therefore, over time, she will suffer from malnutrition, which is exceedingly damaging to the entire body. Moreover, that type of extreme involvement with alcohol in college can easily segue into genuine alcoholism as an adult.

Bulimia is equally worrisome. “At some point, people need to realize that bulimia is as dangerous as anorexia, that one purge can cause a heart attack.” The same holds true for alcohol. “Alcohol is a depressant; how many suicide attempts or actual deaths occur on college campuses where alcohol serves as is a precipitant?”

Furthermore, there is a toxic side to alcohol that few consider. “I had a patient years ago who struggled with alcohol and anorexia; when she returned to her home after treatment, her friends took her out drinking; she died of alcohol poisoning.”

Intervention and therapy are essential. “The dual addiction needs to be addressed in treatment,” Amy said. “These individuals are dealing with fear, anxiety, hurt, sadness, grief, loss at a deep emotional level and they have no clue how to deal with it. They are doing whatever it takes to shut it down. They need to learn healthy ways to regulate emotions.”

Fortunately, colleges and universities nationwide are acting in a very pro-active fashion to curb these issues through projects, awareness and educational campaigns, programs, and counseling. “Universities want their students to be successful; the more students understand the devastating consequences of alcohol, drugs and eating disorders and learn healthy strategies to cope with life, the more addiction and death will decrease in college students.”

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What types of healthy strategies to cope with life are you using in your recovery? What types would be helpful for a college student?

About the Author: Debra M. Cooper, a graduate of Arizona State University, has worked as a professional writer for 30 years. She is the author of Behind The Broken Image, a novel about families and eating disorders. Today, she writes full-time for Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer 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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 8, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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