Why Is Everyone Talking About “Drunkorexia?”

December 10, 2023

An eating disorder can present in many seemingly unexpected ways and can have immense impacts on an individual’s health and well-being. When an eating disorder co-occurs with a condition such as substance abuse, those negative health impacts can be amplified. It’s important to learn more about how eating disorders and alcohol use disorder interplay so you can see the signs in you or a loved one and seek the support you need. This article will help you learn more about drunkorexia”, understand the risks and signs, and find the help you may need. 

What Is Drunkorexia?

Drunkorexia is the non-medical term used colloquially to describe the practice of restricting food calories in order to compensate for calories consumed by drinking alcohol. This calorie restriction is generally associated with a fear of gaining weight. 

Drunkorexia is usually characterized by a variety of behaviors that aim at restricting caloric intake and are rooted in an intense preoccupation with weight and body image. These behaviors may include:

  • Deliberately skipping meals to avoid caloric intake and compensate for any calories obtained by alcohol consumption.
  • Compulsively exercising to compensate for the calories consumed while drinking alcohol, either prior to consumption or after alcohol has been consumed.
  • Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol to induce vomiting and purge previously consumed calories from food or alcohol.

These behaviors align with key behaviors and preoccupations associated with both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa

The term “drunkorexia” comes from combining “drunk,” or drinking alcohol, with the term “anorexia.” Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder denoted by an intense fear of gaining weight. This fear of weight gain can result in a distorted body image and changes in eating behaviors. There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa: restricting subtype and binge-eating/purging subtype. Those struggling with the restricting subtype of anorexia nervosa tend to drastically limit food intake. Those experiencing the binge-eating/purging subtype also may restrict food calorie intake as well as engage in bingeing and purging behaviors.

Though drunkorexia is not a condition formally listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), both substance abuse, such as alcoholism, and an eating disorder, like anorexia nervosa, can cause significant negative health impacts.

Who Is Most at Risk? 

Anyone can develop an eating disorder regardless of gender, age, race, or demographic background. However, some people may be more at-risk for particular types of disordered eating, such as drunkorexia. Drunkorexia has become an increasing health concern for young adults who wish to partake in consuming alcohol while also holding strong preoccupations about body size and weight. Some studies have shown that up to eighty percent of university students have demonstrated behaviors associated with drunkorexia.

Additionally, 22- 66% of college-age women have reported inducing vomiting to compensate for the calories consumed while drinking alcohol. Drunkorexia does not only occur among young adults and college students. Older adults are also at risk with increasing negative effects to health as age increases. 

Drunkorexia combines the harmful effects of disordered eating with often-problematic drinking behaviors, resulting in a challenging condition that has negative effects on both physical and mental well-being. 

Risks of Drunkorexia

When two potentially harmful conditions, such as eating disorders and alcohol abuse, come together, the impacts can be significant. Drunkorexia can be dangerous to one’s health for a number of reasons. When calories from food are replaced with calories from alcohol, the body can respond in a variety of ways. Dehydration, nutrient deficiency, and corresponding physical and mental health problems can arise. If the body does not receive sufficient calories from food, a person may experience anemia, gastrointestinal issues, organ dysfunction, and mental fog. These outcomes are exacerbated when combined with the excessive consumption of alcohol. Blacking out, alcohol poisoning, hypoglycemia, malnutrition, and cognitive dysfunction are common risks of drunkorexia. 

If a person engages in behaviors associated with drunkorexia for an extended length of time, long-term effects may ensue. These health effects include liver disease, heart complications, diabetes, osteoporosis, and dementia. 

Substance abuse and eating disorders can have compounding negative effects. Those who struggle with eating disorders are more likely to experience substance use disorder (SUD) and those who struggle with substance abuse are more likely to engage in behaviors associated with eating disorders. In order to seek help for you or a loved one, it is important to understand the risks of drunkorexia.

Signs and Symptoms of Drunkorexia

Though eating disorders can manifest in various ways, it is important to recognize the particular signs and symptoms of drunkorexia. Behavioral signs may include:

  • Binge drinking, or consuming five or more drinks in a single occasion for men and four or more drinks in a single occasion for women. 
  • Excessive exercise
  • Hyper-fixation on calories consumed either by food or alcohol intake
  • Frequent dieting
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Low self-esteem

Physical signs of drunkorexia may include:

  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Thinning hair
  • Discoloration of skin and nails
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Reduced immune response

Binge drinking can seem like a fun part of being a young adult but it can have dangerous and lasting impacts on both mental and physical health. When combining binge drinking and disordered eating, as in the case of drunkorexia, severe health impacts can occur. 

Getting Help: How to Treat Drunkorexia

Eating disorders are serious, complex mental health conditions that are common and treatable. If you or a loved one experiences the signs and symptoms of drunkorexia, it is important to seek treatment and support.

Eating disorder treatments may vary based on many different factors, such as insurance, geographic location, and co-occurring disorders. Treatment for substance abuse varies similarly. Depending on these factors, there are various levels of care, from outpatient treatment to residential treatment. Working closely with a care team will help you find the treatment that is right for you on your journey to recovery. 

Seek Help

If you or a loved one is experiencing an eating disorder or substance abuse, it’s important to seek help. Recovery is possible and help is available with the National Alliance for Eating Disorders.