Undereating and Drinking: Avoiding “Drunkorexia”

Group of Young Adults and their Corporeal Body

“Drunkorexia” is a relatively unknown slang term for a more commonly known behavior. Individuals that engage in these behaviors alter their caloric intake either in preparation for the calories they plan to consume via alcohol or to make up for the calories they consumed via alcohol.

These behaviors can be restrictive or compensatory, with dysfunctional eating behaviors such as “reducing the consumption of high-calorie or fatty foods, eating less during meals, skipping meals, fasting and using compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives and/or diuretics, and excessive exercising” being reported [1].

Drunkorexia: Substance Use Disorder or Eating Disorder?

There is a debate in research as to whether “drunkorexic” behaviors should be considered as substance use disorders, eating disorders, or food intake disorders. This brings about a “chicken-and-the-egg” discussion, where one asks whether an eating disorder leads to the alcohol consumption or increased alcohol consumption leads to eating disorder behavior.

The truth is, the two are very intimately connected and field off of one another in this scenario. Studies have learned that having either disorder, substance use or eating, is a predictor of “drunkorexia [1].”

Those that struggle with dysfunctional eating behaviors such as “body dissatisfaction, cognitive restraint, purging and excessive exercise” in females and “binge eating, cognitive restraint, purging and restricting” in males were significant predictors of future “drunkorexic” behaviors [1].

Just Part of the College “Lifestyle?”

“Drunkorexia” is commonly found in adolescents and young adults, particularly those in the university environment. Since popular media coined this term in 2008, research has learned that 45% of female and 29% of male college students restrict calories on days they plan to drink [1].

This is likely due to the normalization of excessive drinking that exists in the “college lifestyle.” Research shows that college students engage in elevated levels of “high-intensity drinking,” consuming amounts of alcohol higher than even binge drinking.

College students are “significantly more likely to engage in high-intensity binge drinking than other young adults: 12.4% of college students consumed 10+ drinks, and 5.1% consumed 15+ drinks, compared with 9% and 3.5% of 19- to 20-year-olds not attending college [2].” Individuals in this age group are also more likely to struggle with body dissatisfaction and disordered eating and are constantly bombarded with pressure to not gain weight in college.

Multiethnic Group of Teenagers fighting DrunkorexiaThis has led to a culture that normalizes college students engaging in disordered eating and drinking behaviors and shrugged it off as an age-appropriate rite-of-passage. When these young adults graduate, many will continue their disordered eating and drinking behaviors and struggle with them for the rest of their life, confused by the accepted belief that it was “all in good fun” until it isn’t anymore.

Risks of Drunkorexia

As “harmless” as university culture may make “drunkorexic” behaviors seem, it has severe consequences. With students engaging in high-intensity drinking without nourishment, they are physically harming their bodies as well as putting themselves at risk for the consequences of worsened inebriation due to drinking “on an empty stomach.”

Alcohol use in university populations is related to severe consequences. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “1,519 college students ages 18 to 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes [3].”

Students are also more likely to become perpetrators or victims of assault, as “about 696,000 students ages 18 to 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking” and “about 97,000 students ages 18 to 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape [3].” One in four college students also reports academic difficulties due to excessive drinking [3].

It is clear that normalization of high-intensity drinking and “drunkorexic” behaviors in university college can result in severe harm to the student’s present and future. If you are currently attending or preparing for college, do not be ashamed to speak against these dangerous habits if you are faced with them.

A shift needs to occur in the culture of college drinking and disordered eating behaviors because drunkorexia is not “harmless.”


Resources

[1] Pompili, S. Laghi, F. (2018). Drunkorexia among adolescents: the role of motivations and emotion regulation. Eating Behaviors, 29.

[2] Patrick, M. E., Azar, B. (2018). High intensity drinking. Alcohol Research, 39:1.

[3] Unknown (2021). College drinking. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/college-drinking.


About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


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 March 24, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on March 24, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

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