What is Drunkorexia and Why is it so Dangerous?

drunkorexia

Eating disorders are mental health conditions that affect an individual’s behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes towards eating, food, and body image. According to research, 9% of the U.S. population (28.8 million people) suffer from an eating disorder.[1]

There are many different types of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, pica, rumination disorder, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. Individuals who suffer from eating disorders often suffer from co-occurring substance use disorders. 

The National Eating Disorder Association reports, “up to 50% of individuals with eating disorders use alcohol or illicit drugs, a rate five times higher than the general population.”[2]

Anorexia and alcoholism co-occur so often that a nonmedical slang term, “drunkorexia” was coined. With that being said, individuals must understand what drunkorexia is and the danger associated with this comorbidity. 

What is Drunkorexia?

To understand what drunkorexia is, individuals must first understand what anorexia nervosa is. Anorexia is a mental health condition that causes individuals to suffer from a distorted body image and a fear of gaining weight that leads to the refusal of eating food. 

Individuals with anorexia are at a high risk of developing addictions to substances like laxatives or alcohol. When an individual with anorexia abuses these substances, oftentimes, they are attempting to lessen their appetite or stimulate weight loss.

Drunkorexia, in particular, is the combination of anorexia nervosa and alcohol use disorder

The behaviors associated with drunkorexia include:

  • Eating less or exercising more to speed up or enhance the effects of alcohol
  • Engaging in binging on food and purging (vomiting) with the help of heavy alcohol consumption
  • Eating less to offset the calories gained by drinking alcohol, avoiding food altogether, or exercising heavily

According to The National Eating Disorder Association, “Drunkorexia is a colloquial term that refers to altering eating behaviors to either offset for planned caloric intake from alcohol or to increase/speed the effects of alcohol.”[2]

Risk Factors of Drunkorexia

A research assistant at the University of Houston conducted a study on college students who engage in heavy drinking. According to an NBC article on this study, 80% of the 1,184 college students who were surveyed displayed at least one of the behaviors associated with drunkorexia.[3]

While most eating disorders affect more women than men, studies have found that drunkorexia is just as prevalent (if not more) among men. 

With that being said, the risk factors of drunkorexia include:

  • Being a college student who drinks heavily
  • Suffering from alcohol abuse or addiction
  • Struggling with body image and weight 
  • Having a history of trauma or adverse experiences
  • Genetic predispositions to eating disorders or alcoholism
  • Having bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa 

The Dangers of Drunkorexia

Because drunkorexia is the combination of anorexia and alcohol use disorder, there are an array of dangers individuals should be aware of. 

When an individual suffers from anorexia, they do not intake enough calories per day to receive the nutrients they need. Despite believing that drinking alcohol will offset this depletion of nutrients, alcohol only provides empty calories. This causes individuals to be at a high risk of dehydration, vitamin depletion, and an array of other health concerns.

Short-Term Risks

Suffering from the combination of anorexia and alcohol addiction can lead to an array of immediate adverse effects. When an individual is replacing their food with alcohol, their body does not absorb the substance properly. This causes the effects of alcohol to become more severe and begin faster than usual. 

The short-term risks of alcohol abuse and anorexia include:

  • Weakness
  • Lack of energy
  • Fatigue 
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting or blacking out
  • Poor speech and vision 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Alcohol poisoning 
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Alcohol-induced psychosis 
  • Increased anxiety, depression, and other mental health-related symptoms

Long-Term Risks

When an individual continues to replace their meals with alcohol, their body will begin to deteriorate over time. This occurs because they are not receiving the nutrients they need and their body is unable to process alcohol properly. 

The long-term risks of drunkorexia include a mixture of the risks associated with severe alcoholism and anorexia.

Anorexia is known to cause the following long-term effects:

  • Reproductive issues
  • Hypotension, bradycardia, and arrhythmias 
  • Damage to the heart’s structure and function
  • Mitral valve prolapse and cardiac arrest
  • Structural changes to the brain 
  • Peripheral neuropathy 
  • Seizures 
  • Reduced bone mass density 
  • Osteopenia and osteoporosis 
  • Life-threatening malnutrition 

Alcoholism is known to cause the following long-term effects:

  • Liver cirrhosis 
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Heart damage 
  • Stroke
  • Compromised immune system
  • Malnutrition
  • Issues with hormones 
  • The development of various cancers
  • Alcohol-induced neurological disorders

With that being said, individuals who suffer from the comorbidity of anorexia and alcohol use disorder are at a higher risk of experiencing the long-term effects of both conditions. This makes drunkorexia an extremely dangerous condition, as both anorexia and alcoholism can negatively affect every part of an individual’s body. 

Finding Help for Alcoholism and Eating Disorders

Individuals with eating disorders are at a higher risk of developing an addiction to alcohol or other substances like laxatives and stimulants. If you or a loved one suffer from a co-occurring eating disorder and substance use disorder like drunkorexia, attending professional treatment is necessary.

Dual diagnosis treatment centers like Moving Mountains Recovery are experts in treating eating disorders and comorbid addiction. With our comprehensive and individualized treatment planning, we can provide you or your loved one with the tools you need to recover. Contact us today for more information on how to get started.

References:

  1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/striped/report-economic-costs-of-eating-disorders/
  2. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/substance-use-and-eating-disorders
  3. https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/college-game-plan/drunkorexia-prevalent-among-college-students-study-finds-n614871
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