Drunkorexia: Health Risks & Recovery Tips
“Drunkorexia” – it’s not a medical term, but literally, this term implies a combination of excessive alcohol consumption (“drunk”) with desire or appetite (“-orexia”). On college campuses, this term means much more than “an appetite to be drunk.” It’s used to describe the behavior of deliberately avoiding food intake and/or exercising excessively before drinking. Drunkorexia is also used to describe the behavior of self-induced vomiting after eating (to empty the stomach of food before drinking alcohol), or purging in the midst of an evening of heavy drinking (to allow for continued alcohol consumption). This is a very dangerous behavior, which can result in severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and sudden heart attack – or, an accidental overdose of alcohol, coma and sudden death.
A recent article cited research by the University of Houston, which studied 1200 students who reported at least one episode of heavy drinking in the past month. 80% of students disclosed drunkorexia behaviors – including meal-skipping, self-induced vomiting, and/or laxative abuse prior to drinking. The study revealed that males are just as likely as females to engage in this behavior. (Source: Yahoo News)
It’s speculated that drunkerorexia behaviors are motivated by the individual’s interest to prevent weight gain from the calories in excessive alcohol consumption, by avoiding calories from food itself. Another possibility is that the lack of food in the gut will result in a “quicker buzz,” and an overall intensified effect from alcohol consumption.
Is drunkorexia a type of Eating Disorder? In part, yes. One of the diagnostic criteria for Anorexia Nervosa, a type of eating disorder, is “intense fear of gaining weight or of becoming fat, or persistent behavior that interferes with weight gain, even though at a significantly low weight.” One of the diagnostic criteria for Bulimia Nervosa, another type of eating disorder, is “recurrent inappropriate compensatory behaviors in order to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise.” While individuals with these types of eating disorders do not necessarily drink to excess, those who do consume alcohol often do so in a way that stems from their eating disorder in order to prevent weight gain, which is very consistent with how drunkorexia is described.
Is drunkorexia a type of Substance Use Disorder? In part, yes. Some of the diagnostic criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder include, “craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol; recurrent alcohol use in situations in which is is potentially hazardous; and/or a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect.” While individuals with alcohol use disorders do not necessarily avoid food intake or exercise excessively, some do, as a means to intensify the effects of alcohol. Therefore, drunkorexia behaviors of meal skipping or purging via self-induced vomiting or exercise can stem from the individual’s underlying alcohol cravings and impulse to achieve alcohol’s desired effects.
In drunkorexia, it’s as if eating disorders and alcohol use disorders are “feeding on each other” – which can result in what is called dual-diagnosis or co-morbidity, where the diagnostic criteria of both eating disorders and alcohol use disorders are met. This makes treatment and recovery more complicated – it’s common for individuals to “addiction-switch,” trading the eating disorder for the alcohol use disorder, or vice-versa. Integrated treatment approaches are the key to recovery, where the root cause of both the eating disorders and alcohol use disorders can be addressed.
At Positive Pathways, we take an integrated approach to the treatment of so-called “drunkorexia,” or in clinical terms, a co-occurring eating disorder and alcohol use disorder. If you or someone you love is struggling with these issues, here are some recovery tips:
Be honest with yourself about your drunkorexia behaviors – write down the type and quantity of alcohol you consume, how many days each week you drink, and also note the disordered eating behaviors you use (meal-skipping, purging, etc), and why you use these behaviors (to prevent weight gain, to intensify the effects of alcohol, or both).
Tell someone that you think you have a problem – saying this out loud is the first step to recovery, and making a change in your eating and drinking behaviors.
Reach out for peer support for one or both disorders – attend an eating disorder support group (see info about our Monday Night Group below), Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, or other sobriety support groups through Women for Sobriety or Life Ring.
Consult with a mental health or medical professional – an eating disorder specialist, addiction counselor, or physician can provide an assessment and diagnosis, and can offer treatment strategies for you. While peer support can be helpful to know you “aren’t alone in the struggle,” mental health and medical treatment are the keys to long-term recovery.
Reflect about your values – you might think that you value being an ideal weight or having a fit body, so you justify your drunkorexia behaviors to maintain your low body weight. But what about your value of your health? Or, you might think that you value having friends and fitting in with the crowd, so you justify your drunkorexia behaviors to drink excessively just like everyone else in your peer group. But what about your value of connection with others? What do you really want – to look good – or, to be loving towards yourself and others, and truly loved by others? Food for thought!
At Positive Pathways, we believe that complete recovery from eating disorders and substance use disorders is possible — you can live free of the symptoms of Alcohol Abuse, Drug Abuse, Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Food Addiction, Exercise Addiction or other struggles with addiction. Our treatment team of EDIT™ Certified Counselors is here to help! Get started on your journey of recovery today with a FREE consultation: 720-606-3242
Try our FREE Eating Disorder Support Group — http://positivepathways.com/workshops-and-groups/