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Survey shows rise in trend known as ‘drunkorexia’

Jordan Cissell

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There are some things in life that just don’t mix well. A recently developing trend, dubbed “drunkorexia,” dangerously combines two such items: eating disorders and substance abuse.

According to a clinical report published in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education in August of 2010, the name of the behavioral pattern, which displays increased prevalence on college campuses, “was coined by popular media in 2008 to describe the practice of resisting calories so more alcohol can be consumed without gaining weight.”

In their survey of 692 first-year college students, the authors of the article found 14 percent of the sample participants intentionally limited calorie intake on days when they were planning to consume alcohol.

Delynne Wilcox, assistant director of health planning and prevention at the Student Health Center, said the possibility of saving money on grocery costs and potential for getting intoxicated more quickly are significant driving factors for the behavior, though weight gain avoidance is most likely the primary motivation.

“There is a lot of pressure, especially on girls in the college-age population, to stay thin and maintain the ‘accepted’ body image,” she said. “But it’s not just girls. Now, you’re seeing more and more males with body issues as well.”

Wilcox stressed the hazardous reality of the behavior’s consequences, but she said the medical and scientific validity of the much-hyped moniker invites further scrutiny.

“The behavior [is] not new, but the term is. The name is not a research-based term — the media coined it, and that’s how people refer to it,” she said. “There hasn’t been enough research and real medical study to verify that drunkorexia is its own disease or the two problems occurring together. Most research goes into ways to stop the harmful effects of binge drinking, not all of the new ways to do it. Y’all are more creative than the researchers, and they can’t keep up.”

Wilcox said the average 12-ounce regular and light beers contain 150 and 110 calories, respectively — calories that are frequently consumed without any acknowledgment in the midst of party mode — and the average human body requires one to two hours to process the amount of alcohol in one beer.

Wilcox feels students need to spend some time processing the risks associated with drunkorexia’s dangerous behavioral patterns.

“Any time you cut calories in one area for use in another, that’s not a good thing. Optimal health is all about leading a balanced lifestyle,” Wilcox said. “Your body needs adequate nutrition throughout the day. You’re limiting your nutritional value and then adding binge drinking, which is definitely not healthy and doesn’t make it any better.”

According to the Journal article, “alcohol is also known for its vitamin … and nutrient leaching qualities,” and “by drinking on an empty stomach, students are more likely to suffer serious health consequences from alcohol-induced hypoglycemia, including traumatic brain injuries such as memory lapses and blackouts.”

Research shows the negative effects of drunkorexia behavior can extend far beyond a headache the next morning.

“People who participate in disordered eating combined with binge drinking are also more at risk for violence, risky sexual behavior, alcohol poisoning, substance abuse and chronic diseases later in life,” according to an October 2011 Science Daily press release on the subject.

In the meantime, Wilcox encouraged students to make informed, safe decisions concerning their habitual food and alcohol consumption.

“We ask everyone to be aware of how much alcohol they are consuming and the potential harm they could cause to themselves and the University community through unsafe choices,” she said. “If you’re worried about the amount of calories you’re consuming from the beer you’re drinking, maybe that’s a sign you shouldn’t be drinking that much in the first place.”

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Survey shows rise in trend known as ‘drunkorexia’