Dangers of Drunkorexia

Drunkorexia is a non-medical slang term used to describe the symptomatic behaviors of anorexia or bulimia when they are combined with alcohol abuse. While it is a relatively new term and is not considered a diagnosis or classification by many treatment professionals, it does describe a problem that is faced by a large proportion of the population.

Most commonly individuals with drunkorexia restrict food intake during the day, in an attempt to compensate for the calories they will consume later by drinking, in order to prevent weight gain. They may also hope that by avoiding food, they will become intoxicated more quickly because alcohol will be absorbed faster on an empty stomach. Finally, they may believe that alcohol will provide them with calories to replace the ones they avoided earlier in the day. However, alcohol has no nutritional value, and those calories are “empty calories.” Thus individuals who engage in this behavior are at risk for malnutrition and a host of other serious problems.

This behavior is most often seen in people of college age, however, it can be observed in both women and men that are older. Studies have demonstrated that in order to avoid the weight gain that might be associated with drinking large quantities, people starve themselves in preparation for drinking and afterwards.

Drunkorexia In College

A study by the University of Missouri found that up to 30 percent of all female college students that they surveyed had restricted food so that they could feel better about drinking more alcohol and not putting on weight. Both of these behaviors can be seen as resulting from social pressure in one way or another. On the one hand, there is the pressure to go out and drink; on the other hand, there is the pressure to look thin. Most of the girls that admitted to not eating before drinking also admitted that they did so because they were afraid of putting on weight; some of them, however, said that they were doing so in order to get drunk faster.

Drinking On An Empty Stomach

Unfortunately, malnutrition coupled with the effects of alcohol can be very bad for a person’s body. When a person drinks alcohol on an empty stomach, he or she is more likely to suffer symptoms of alcohol poisoning, blackouts, memory loss, alcohol-related violence, illness, stomach disruption, headaches, and alcohol-related injuries. This is because when a person consumes alcohol on an empty stomach, the ethanol from the drink enters the bloodstream much faster. Very severe cases can even lead to alcohol-related brain damage.

When a person is hungry, it is likely that once they start drinking, they will continue to drink a larger amount than if they were not hungry. This is because their body is craving some sort of calorific intake. This leads to a higher potential for binge-drinking. When the person is drunk, because they have less control, it is also more likely that they will binge-eat. This binge eating can lead to feelings of guilt and depression the following day.

Additionally, drinking alcohol can lead to dehydration, and when a person is malnourished already, the consequences of this are even worse. The dehydration that drinking causes can further deplete the person’s stores of nutrients and minerals, so if that person is already malnourished the effects will be exaggerated further. This puts the brain and the body under great pressure, which can affect cognitive function like memory and ability to perform well in school tests as well as cause physical weakness.

Alcohol consumption in excess has been linked to several types of cancer including bowel cancer, breast cancer, and liver cancer. Heavy drinking is particularly damaging to the liver and can result in cirrhosis which can also increase the possibility of liver cancer.

Women do not metabolize alcohol as fast as men do, and for this reason, the effects of drinking on an empty stomach are more profound in females than they are in males. This is not to say that drunkorexia is not a problem in men also.

Alcohol Addiction

An additional concern is alcohol addiction. The cycle of addiction once established can be very hard to break out of. Alcoholism is a disease that can have a long term negative impact on the central nervous system and can cause liver disease, digestive issues, heart problems, damage to the eyes, and sexual dysfunction.

People who drink alcohol should not restrict their food consumption during the day. A balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein, and fats is essential to help the body function properly. If you are worried that you are suffering from drunkorexia or you know someone that is, it is important that you seek professional treatment.


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Written by Tabitha Farrar – 2014


Psychology Today