What is Drunkorexia?
Drunkorexia is not an official medical term but has been used to describe the behavior of starving ones self or binging and purging in combination with the use of alcohol, most commonly binge drinking. Most recently is has been called the “Jersey Shore Phenomenon”. Binge drinking is drinking five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks in a row for women. The term drunkorexics is most commonly referring to college age students who are frequent binge drinkers. They tend to typically be women although men can also participate in this behavior. It is believed that drunkorexia comes from the desire to be as thin as possible while still being able to go out and have alcoholic drinks with friends. People have reported skipping meals or throwing up before going out to account for the high calories in alcohol. Although the term combines alcoholism and anorexia, medical professionals are undecided if it is accurately describing an eating disorder, alcohol addiction, or both.
The Difference Between Men and Women
Although women are more commonly affected by eating disorders there are more than a million men and boys who struggle with eating disorders every day. There have been reports of drunkorexia in the male population. Some men report skipping meals to watch there weight, but most men say that other factors cause them to fit into the category of drunkorexic. Men often choose to skip meals because it optimizes the effects of alcohol making intoxication quicker. Without food as a buffer alcohol enters the blood stream faster making a person feel the effects faster. Money is also a factor. If there is a choice between spending money on dinner or beer men are more likely to choose beer.
Studies have shown that women’s bodies process alcohol differently then men’s. The female body has a higher proportion of body fat than a male’s body and fat does not absorb alcohol. Men have more muscle tissue and muscle tissue does absorb alcohol. Gastric enzymes help break down alcohol before it enters the blood stream. Women have less gastric enzymes than men. Women are more likely then males to become alcohol dependent. Becky Flood, executive director of New Directions for women, estimated that two years of women drinking equals 10 years of a man’s.
Dangers of Drunkorexia
Carrie Wilkens, co-founder and clinical director of the Center for Motivation and Change, states “Food slows the absorption and acts as a buffer from becoming intoxicated too quickly.” She goes on to say, “That first drink after not having eaten all day and in some cases these girls do not eat for many days in a row, that first drink has a big affect. They’re at risk for passing out, really terrible consequences.” Malnutrition, dehydration, impaired judgment and sexual victimization are just a few of the increased risked when drinking alcohol on an empty stomach.
- Heart Disease: heart becomes slow or irregular. Can cause cardiac arrest.
- Amenorrhea: irregular or absent menstrual cycle due to unbalanced hormone levels.
- Anemia: iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid deficiency due to lack of nutrients.
- Bone loss: lack of calcium causing osteoporosis.
- Stunted growth: normal growth hindered due to lack of calcium.
- Bowel irregularities: due to the use of laxatives
- Kidney damage: due to dehydration and abuse of laxatives.
- Severe tooth decay: acid wears away enamel of teeth caused by vomiting.
- High or low blood pressure: strain on the heart and body can change the levels of blood pressure.
- Lanugo: growth of fine hair over entire body to keep the body warm.
- Temperature decrease: a feeling of “cold” due to lack of muscle and fat.
- Brittle hair or hair loss
- Brittle nails
- Jaundice: dry or yellowish skin due to dehydration of the liver.
- Liver complications: inflammation of the liver (alcohol hepatitis) is more likely to occur in women and they are more likely to die from cirrhosis.
- Cancer: increased risks of breast cancer for heavy female drinkers.
- Brain disease: Both men and women are at risk for reduction in size and changes in brain cells resulting in loss of brain function due to heavy drinking.
- Heart disease: alcohol related heart disease such as cardiovascular disease is more common in women who are heavy drinkers.
- Clinical psychologist and addiction expert, Carrie Wilkens, says there have been no formal statistics
following the behavior of drunkorexia. However, the statistics that are available show that 30
percent of young women who have a problem with alcohol also have some type of eating disorder.
- According to Jay Pedelty, Prevention Specialist with Prairie Ridge Addiction, “Two thirds of deaths
associated with alcohol are from impairment problems. So this starving myself so I’ll become
profoundly and significantly intoxicated, carries a significant risk for death or other health
- The Harvard School of Public Health reports two out of five college students binge drink.
- The Journal of Drug and Alcohol Education found that 14 percent of almost 700 surveyed students
reported skipping meals before drinking alcohol to cut down on calories.
- The National institute on Alcohol and Abuse reported “An estimated 5.3 million women in the
United States drink in a way that threatens their health, safety, and general well-being.”
The Combination of Alcohol and Eating Disorders
The past president of the National Eating Disorders Association, Dr. Bunnell, said, “the obsession with being skinny and the social acceptance of drinking and using drugs – along with the sense, lately, that among celebrities, checking into rehab is almost a given, if not downright chic – is partly to blame.” He goes on to say, “both disorders are behaviors that are glorified and reinforced.” “Binge drinking is almost cool and hip, and losing weight and being thin is a cultural imperative for young women in America. Mixing both is not surprising, and it has reached a tipping point in terms of public awareness.”
Psychologists feel the main cause of drunkorexia is addiction. Eating disorders are like other addictions according to psychologists. Binging and purging are often used to numb emotional pain. Similar to substance abuse eating disorders often stem from some type of childhood trauma such as sexual abuse, neglect or mental anguish. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states, “alcoholism and eating disorders frequently co-occur and often co-occur in the presence of other psychiatric and personality disorders.” Currently, doctors have to look at each condition separately and treat them one at a time since drunkorexia is not a defined medical condition. The National Institute of Mental Health stated, “Many people with anorexia also have coexisting psychiatric and physical illnesses, including depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, substance abuse, cardiovascular and neurological complications, and impaired physical development.” Combining both the diseases is doubly dangerous. The human body can only take so much with out having permanent and irreversible damage done.
ABC News. Drunkorexia: Alcohol Mixes With Eating Disorders. Retrieved from www.abcnews.go.com
CBS News. Drunkorexia: Health Danger For Women. March 8, 2010. Retrieved from www.cbsnews.com
Herald Sun. Not Eating to Drink: Women Face Drunkorexia. November 5, 2009. Retrieved from www.heraldsun.com
Hubpages.com. Drunkorexia What is it? The Effects of College Alcohol Binge Drinking and Not Eating. Retrieved from www.hubpages.com
Join Together. Drunkorexia Becoming Concern on Some College Campuses. May 26, 2011. Retrieved from www.drugfree.org
MacAnally, David. Wthr.com. Campuses Concerned about ‘Drunkorexia’. September, 2, 2011. Retrieved from www.wthr.com
The New York Times. Starving Themselves, Cocktail in Hand. March 2, 2008. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com