What Is Drunkorexia?

By Beth Leipholtz 03/12/19

Experts discuss the relatively new disorder and the way it affects the body and mind.

Image: 
student with drunkorexia holding alcoholic beverage on college campus

Eating disorders and substance use disorders are overlapping more often, according to registered dietitian and author Cara Rosenbloom. 

What Rosenbloom is referring to is “drunkorexia”—when an individual, often female, does not eat all day or eats very little leading up to an evening of consuming alcohol. They may also exercise aggressively or purge before drinking alcohol. 

“Drunkorexia addresses the need to be the life of the party while staying extremely thin, pointing to a flawed mindset about body image and alcoholism among college students, mostly women,” Rosenbloom writes in the Washington Post

Drinking in this manner is dangerous, particularly because the lack of food in the stomach means a faster absorption of alcohol. According to Tavis Glassman, professor of health education and public health at the University of Toledo in Ohio, this can lead to more issues. 

“With nothing in her system, alcohol hits quickly, and that brings up the same issues as with any high-risk drinking: getting home safely, sexual assault, unintentional injury, fights, blackouts, hangovers that affect class attendance and grades, and possibly ending up in emergency because the alcohol hits so hard,” he tells Rosenbloom.

Drunkorexia may also lead to nutrient deficiencies such as calcium, B-vitamins, magnesium, fiber and protein, registered dietitian Ginger Hultin says. 

“Alcohol can negatively affect the liver or gastrointestinal system, it can interfere with sleep, lower the immune system and is linked to several types of cancers,” Hultin tells Rosenbloom.

Because drunkorexia is a fairly new disorder, our knowledge of the disorder is limited, while the existing research varies widely. 

Glassman, along with others in the field, is hoping to have drunkorexia added as a legitimate diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They hope that doing so could establish some guidelines for professionals to identify the disorder, Rosenbloom writes.

The addition to the DSM would also increase likelihood of insurance coverage for those who may need treatment.  

Glassman and colleagues are working to combat the issue at the University of Toledo by bringing more awareness to healthy body image and decreasing body shaming.

“We try to emphasize that the human body comes in different shapes and sizes, and remind students that when they look at the media, with computer enhancement and airbrushing, even the model may not really look like a model,” Glassman tells Rosenbloom. “We remind students to value people based on things besides their appearance.”

Hultin adds, “If students see friends engaging in this type of behavior, they can intervene and encourage different choices or offer support or resources to address a potential problematic relationship with alcohol and/or food.” 

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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