Drunkorexia in College Students

Drunkorexia is a term used to describe disordered eating behaviors involving heavy use of alcohol. While drunkorexia isn’t a clinical term or formal diagnosis, it shares traits with several recognized eating disorders as well as alcohol use disorder. Drunkorexia could affect college women the most, with many of its traits and other eating disorder habits becoming normalized by peers.

What Does Drunkorexia Look Like?

The term drunkorexia describes a range of disordered eating habits, such as restricting calorie intake before drinking to offset the calories of alcohol. Others who have drunkorexia might induce vomiting after a night of drinking in an attempt to avoid a hangover. Drunkorexia can also include excessive exercise before or after drinking.

While many college students can’t legally drink, studies show that most do. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 60% of college students ages 18-22 drink alcohol. Because drinking is so common, college students may normalize some of the habits associated with drunkorexia. However, whenever disordered eating habits like restrictive eating, unhealthy dieting, and excessive exercise are combined with heavy drinking, it can be dangerous.

Possible Causes of Drunkorexia

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 10%-20% of college women and 4%-10% of college men suffer from an eating disorder. College students face an increase in stress from things such as moving out for the first time, moving to a new place, trying to make friends, keeping up with schoolwork, and the pressure of college sports. With this added stress comes the risk for mental health concerns, including eating disorders.

Another potential cause of disordered eating among college students is the pressure to look their best. The freshman 15 is a popular term used to describe the weight gain students experience when they enter college. Weight gain is normal when facing a new phase in life, and there is no proof of the freshman 15. However, it can still cause some students to develop a negative body image.

College may expose many students to alcohol, and they may feel pressured to drink in excess. When this occurs with body image concerns, students may develop drunkorexia.

The Dangers of Drunkorexia

Excessive drinking even without disordered eating can be dangerous. Drinking on a full stomach is a safer way to consume alcohol, as it slows its effect. However, those who display symptoms of drunkorexia may drink on an empty stomach after not eating anything all day. This can cause quick alcohol absorption, leading to passing out, vomiting, and alcohol poisoning.

With intoxication comes other risks, such as drunk driving, unintentional injuries, violent behavior, blackouts, and hangovers that can affect a person’s mental health and school performance.

Heavy alcohol use can also damage the liver and gastrointestinal system as well as interfere with sleep and the immune system.

One danger that is unique to drunkorexia is the fact that it may be becoming normalized by college students. One study found that 34% of college students engaged in drunkorexia behaviors. It also showed that 81% of students who heavily drank engaged in such behaviors.

Warning Signs to Watch For

Although drunkorexia may not be a clinical diagnosis, combining disordered eating habits with heavy alcohol use can have real consequences for college students. It is important to recognize the warning signs that you or someone you know may be struggling with drunkorexia.

Signs to watch for include:

  • Restricting calories before drinking
  • Induced vomiting while drinking
  • Excessive exercise before or after drinking
  • Becoming intoxicated very quickly
  • Blacking out or passing out due to drinking
  • Excessive worry over looks and body image

If you or someone you know is engaging in drunkorexia behaviors, it is important to receive help right away.