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Drunkorexia A Dangerous Practice Among Teens, College Students


Drunkorexia, a term that describes a combination of restricted eating and binge drinking, is a dangerous practice among teens and college students. A new study from the University of Missouri reports that drunkorexia can pose serious physical, behavioral, and cognitive consequences.

Drunkorexia is more common among females

Even though “drunkorexia” is a term coined by the media, the combination of an eating disorder and excessive drinking has caught the attention of health professionals and researchers. A growing number of studies are examining this phenomenon.

Those most likely to engage in drunkorexia are college-age females who are bulimic and who binge drink. Because anorexics severely limit their calorie intake, they are more likely to avoid alcohol, although some drink rather than eat and to relieve anxiety.

At the University of Missouri, Victoria Osborne, assistant professor of social work and public health, and her team explored the practice of drunkorexia and found that 16% of those questioned limited their calorie intake so they could “save them” for drinking alcohol. This behavior was three times more common among women than men.

Osborne explained that separately, “depriving the brain of adequate nutrition and consuming large amounts of alcohol can be dangerous.” When people combine both behaviors, “they can cause short- and long-term cognitive problems including difficulty concentrating, studying and making decisions.”

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Drunkorexia also places individuals at greater risk for developing more serious eating disorders or addiction problems, engaging in violence and risky sexual behaviors, experiencing alcohol poisoning, and developing chronic diseases later in life. Women are at higher risk for organ damage associated with binge drinking because they metabolize alcohol differently than men.

A previous study of the association between eating disorders and substance abuse conducted in more than 13,000 women found that overall, people who had an eating disorder were more likely to engage in substance abuse than those without an eating problem. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill investigators reported that females who practiced bulimia or anorexia/bulimia were more likely to admit abusing alcohol than were anorexics.

A Yale University study looked at binge drinking among college students. Among a sample of 428 students, 72% said they drank at or above binge thresholds regularly. The frequently of binge drinking among women was higher than among men.

Osborne warned that “it is important that young people understand the risks” of drunkorexia. She noted that although college students are taught about the dangers of binge drinking, “most of them do not consider the long-term health consequences of disordered eating and heavy drinking, either alone or combined.”

Balodis IM et al. Behavioural Pharmacology 2009 Sep; 20(5-6): 518-26
Root TL et al. Psychological Medicine 2010 Jan; 40(1): 105-15
University of Missouri

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons