Anorexia and Alcohol

“Drunkorexia,” is a cynical sort of slang for a scary blend of eating disorders and alcohol abuse. The nickname fits—and as a serious, even potentially deadly health problem, it’s becoming more and more prevalent in a society that continues to worship the reed-thin, near-starved female body.

But how can someone who’s purposefully starving herself in order to achieve that twisted form of female physical perfection rationalize drinking? It’s no secret that booze is jammed with empty calories that turn into nothing but body fat.

woman with a glass of alcohol

Understanding the Disorders

First, it helps to better understand the disorders themselves:

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa: a disorder in which the patient has a severely distorted self-image, perceiving herself as overweight in spite of being overly thin.

She is intensely fearful of becoming fat and refuses to maintain normal body weight. She refuses to eat, but if she does, she often purges the food by vomiting or using laxatives.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent periods of extreme dieting, fasting, or exercising followed by out-of-control binge eating. After the binge, patients purge themselves by vomiting or using laxatives.

They also have severely distorted perceptions of their weight and body shape.

Problem Drinking

Problem drinking is characterized by drinking too much at times/binge drinking and repeating this behavior even when it causes health risks and social problems. It can lead to alcoholism.


Alcoholism is a disease characterized by chronic, often progressive alcohol abuse. It includes a lack of control over the use of alcohol, being preoccupied with alcohol, and being unable to stop drinking even when it causes problems. Alcoholics usually need more and more alcohol to achieve the same effect, and often suffer withdrawal symptoms if they decrease or stop drinking.


“Drunkorexia” is most prevalent among young, college-age women (though men and older adults of both genders may have this combination of disorders). Many have a prior history of eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia nervosa.

One reason this happens may be that, once they’re in college, away from the nurture and protection of home and parents, these young women find themselves in an unfamiliar, stressful, highly competitive world where recreational drinking is cultural, common, and encouraged by their peers. They want to fit in. Recreational drinking becomes normal.

drunk woman on bathroom floor

Drinking to Suppress Appetites

Although most anorexics tend to avoid drinking, some indulge to suppress their appetite. Some drink to relax and calm themselves before eating, to assuage the guilt and anxiety they feel after eating or both. For some, alcohol is their only sustenance. Others may use other drugs, like methamphetamines or cocaine, to suppress their appetites.

Those with bulimia may binge food and alcohol, then purge both.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, eating disorders and substance abuse disorders frequently co-occur. And, a 2003 report from CASA Columbia stated that “anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa were the eating disorders most commonly linked to substance abuse.”

Not Eating to Compensate for Drinking

To prevent weight gain, “drunkorexics” often restrict their eating during the day to compensate for the calories in the alcoholic drinks they consume later. But since alcohol has no nutritional value, they can easily become malnourished along with all of the health and social risks of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

A malnourished person who drinks alcohol is putting herself in serious danger. The ethanol in the drink—the substance that causes the high—enters the bloodstream much faster than if it’s taken with food or on a full stomach.

Treating Drunkorexia

Drinking on an empty stomach increases the risk of alcohol poisoning, blackouts, memory loss, illness, alcohol-related injuries, and even alcohol-related brain damage.

Although “drunkorexia” is becoming more common, it is still treatable. Help is available to people who suffer from eating and alcohol disorders.

Contributor: Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer for Healthline

About the Author:

Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in Northern California.


  1. Food For Thought: Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders. (2003) Retrieved on January 16, 2015 from
  2. Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders. (n.d.) National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved on January 16, 2015 from
  3. Grilo, C.M., et al. Eating Disorders and Alcohol Use Disorders. (2002, Nov.) National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on January 16, 2015 from
  4. Alcoholism. (2014, Dec. 5) Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on January 16, 2015 from

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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 29th, 2015
Published on

Articles on Anorexia