What Is Drunkorexia?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 27, 2020

Drunkorexia, a condition which mimics both alcohol addiction and anorexia, can have serious health risks if left untreated. Treatment for this condition involves addressing both the eating disorder and addiction for the best recovery outcome.

What Is Drunkorexia

Drunkorexia is a condition cropping up mostly on college campuses across the nation. This condition is so-named because it involves both avoiding eating all day and drinking all night.

Those struggling with drunkorexia may have first had either an eating disorder or an alcohol use disorder prior to developing the condition.

Individuals with anorexia nervosa may be preoccupied both with their weight and self-image and may avoid eating to keep weight off, especially if they plan to drink.

Those with an alcohol use disorder may struggle to stop drinking, drink heavily all at once, or may not eat in an attempt to feel the effects of alcohol faster.

Whichever disorder comes first, before long a person engaging in these behaviors may be prone to developing drunkorexia. Unfortunately, this condition can lead to damaging health effects without proper care.

Who Is Affected By Drunkorexia?

Drunkorexia largely affects three groups:

  • college students, ages 18 to 23
  • females
  • those with pre-existing eating disorders or substance abuse issues

However, anyone who wishes to drink heavily, avoid eating to become drunk faster, and keep weight off while maintaining this lifestyle could develop this condition.
People without anorexia who want to restrict their eating so they can drink more later may also have drunkorexia.

This condition may have existed for decades, but research covering this specific combination of mental health and substance use issues (anorexia and alcohol abuse) only just began in 2012.

Results of research from college campuses where drunkorexia was seen to be a major concern has also varied widely. Students self-reporting this condition ranges from 34 percent to 81 percent of campus-wide students.

Long-Term Risks Of Drunkorexia

Drinking in lieu of eating may carry several health risks, both immediately and long-term. Drinking on an empty stomach affects the body differently causing different reactions than those that occur for a person who drinks after eating.

If a person repeatedly drinks heavily on an empty stomach, consequences can increase.

Long-term risks of drunkorexia may include:

  • physical injury, faulty decisions, or changed behavior: the more often a person drinks, the more they are at risk of engaging in risky behavior, bad sexual decisions, and having poor judgment
  • nutrient deficiencies: the body needs more nutrients than usual to metabolize alcohol. Starving the body of nutrients before drinking results in a deficit that can be harmful in the long run
  • hindering fitness progress: many college students engage in drunkorexia behavior while also trying to get fit. But alcohol interferes with functions that help the body repair and build muscle, meaning heavy drinking actually impedes workout progress
  • forming unhealthy eating habits: while drunkorexia is often an attempt to keep weight off while also drinking, drinking alcohol limits decision-making and lowers inhibition. This may encourage unhealthy eating habits, such as binge eating
  • sleep troubles: drinking alcohol often and heavily can interfere with sleep patterns
  • contribute to cancer: heavy drinking over years is linked to several types of cancer
  • addiction and dependence: the more a person drinks, the more at-risk they become for developing a disorder which can affect them long-term, such as addiction (mental reliance) or dependence (physical reliance)

Treating Drunkorexia: Finding Balance In Recovery

The hardest part of developing a substance use disorder, for many, is admitting they have it and seeking help. College students may believe they are simply having fun, partying, and doing what college students do.

But ultimately, they may be putting themselves at risk for an alcohol use disorder, eating disorder, and many harmful side effects.

Treatment can help people struggling with drunkorexia to quit drinking to excess, develop healthy eating habits, and manage in recovery.

The most effective rehab programs will also treat the psychological issues which contribute to such behavior. This can include any underlying cause that contributed to an eating disorder, such as negative self-image or confidence issues, and any trauma that may have been a factor.

To learn more about drunkorexia, or find a rehab program for someone in need, contact an addiction treatment specialist for more information.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 27, 2020


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