Even if some parents are in denial, college students are going to drink. In fact, Villanova University noted that about 80 percent of college students drink. Fortunately, they also reported that 70 percent of students drink four or fewer drinks during a session. Despite the fact that most students drink, many aren’t drinking a large amount. But that doesn’t mean that alcohol abuse isn’t a problem, especially for the 30 percent of people who are drinking large amounts of alcohol at one time.

Drunkorexia is a colloquial term. The term and the condition are a combination of drunkenness (alcohol abuse) and eating disorders. Eating disorders are classified as a mental illness and include bulimia as well as anorexia nervosa.

The Mayo Clinic defines anorexia as “an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of body weight.” According to the Mayo Clinic, “People with bulimia may secretly binge — eating large amounts of food — and then purge, trying to get rid of the extra calories in an unhealthy way.”

These two eating disorders can go hand-in-hand with drinking. Alcohol has plenty of calories. In fact, a shot of vodka has about 100 calories. That’s 100 empty calories that offer no nutritional value, and this amount of calories scares many college students. That’s why they could go to extreme measures to make sure it doesn’t end on their thighs.

The Atlantic reported that up to 26 percent of college students engage in drunkorexia to try to offset the calories they ingest while drinking. Drunkorexia can include refusing to eat breakfast or lunch. It can also include drinking so much that a person vomits all the empty calories he or she ingests. Drunkorexia routinely happens on college campuses and other places where young people gather. By participating in these behaviors, teens and young adults are taking part in activities that could endanger their lives.

On top of these dangerous weight-watching habits, there is also a potential for alcohol abuse or addiction. Alcohol abuse can consist of a large amount of alcohol consumed every day, or it could consist of binge drinking. Binge drinking is common among college students and involves consuming lots of alcohol, sometimes to the point of completely forgetting the events of an evening, in a short amount of time.

What frequently happens in drunkorexia is that a student – often a female – will eat a small breakfast, perhaps cereal or some scrambled eggs from the dining hall. The student will then skip lunch and only eat a small amount of food for dinner, perhaps a salad with minimal dressing or just a bagel and cream cheese.

Such meals amount to a small amount of overall calories. When the student starts drinking, she will be drinking on an empty stomach. By consuming so few calories, many of these women are still at a point of losing weight throughout the day. At first, it won’t affect their looks and they’ll be able to keep going out and keeping up with their normal activities. Some people will purposely not eat for days at a time or drink so much they throw up at the end of the night.

This is problematic. Alcohol can have much more of an impact if a person doesn’t eat and drinks with an empty stomach. The drinker does not have enough food in his or her system to soak up the alcohol, which could intensify the effects of the alcohol. This condition could pop up quickly after a few shots of alcohol. It can lead to serious medical problems, including alcohol poisoning. There can also be negative health effects to purging at the end of the evening, including destroying the esophagus and stomach.

To determine if a loved one might be participating in drunkorexia, ask yourself if the person is

  • Limiting the calories he or she consumes
  • Spending large amounts of his or her budget on alcohol
  • Consuming extreme amounts of alcohol
  • Consuming less food than before
  • Experiencing extreme weight loss

Sometimes, the symptoms of drunkorexia are less noticeable if a person does not live with the suffering person or see the suffering person often. It can help to talk to a roommate or other close associate to determine the exact nature of the problem.

There are also a number of things someone can do to help deal with the problem. As with many problems, the first action could be to talk with the suffering person. But before doing this, doing some research can be helpful. Many universities have counseling offices that have likely dealt with similar circumstances.

If people are not comfortable with a school counselor, finding a private counselor who treats substance abuse and/or eating disorders can often be very beneficial. Providing people with options at the beginning can be a huge key for finding help.

When talking to people who are suffering, make sure to speak in a tone that shows endearment and support. For example, consider using phrases that begin with “I” to show that your loved ones are not just hurting themselves. For example, you might use the phrase “I get worried when you refuse to eat and go out to drink instead.”

Drunkorexia can often be overlooked or misunderstood because it’s a combination of two different problems. Many people who participate in both these activities are participating with friends in order to stay thin, so it might be a normalized activity that might not seem odd to them. Finding help can be imperative. Drunkorexia is alarming, dangerous, and can have a long-term impact.


Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash