The term “drunkorexia” is relatively new, only recently coined and becoming part of the lexicon of mental health terminology. The condition, however, is not as new as the word used to describe it.
Drunkorexia is a mixture of alcoholism and anorexia nervosa. Generally, a person suffering from drunkorexia will deprive himself or herself of food during the day, in an attempt to keep calories under control when he or she goes drinking later. Although more men engage in binge drinking, more women than men suffer from drunkorexia.
Brief Overview of Drunkorexia
The National Eating Disorder Association defines drunkorexia as behaviors that include “replacing food consumption with excessive alcohol consumption or consuming food along with sufficient amounts of alcohol to induce vomiting as a method of purging and numbing feelings.”
Eating disorders combined with excessive alcohol consumption may take a variety of forms. For those who suffer from drunkorexia, the likelihood of developing an eating disorder is increased, if the eating disorder does not already exist. There are serious consequences attached to starving the body of calories on days of heavy drinking. In many cases, the user’s body will be unable to absorb or process the alcohol fast enough to avoid alcohol poisoning.
There is no question that people suffering from an eating disorder are prone to alcohol and/or substance abuse. According to a 2009 study by the International Journal of Eating Disorders, there is a critical need for interventions for college women targeting binge drinking and eating disorders.
Drunkorexia Warning Signs
There are a number of signs that a person may be suffering from drunkorexia.
Common Signs of Drunkorexia Include:
- Avoiding meals but drinking excessively in the evening: Eating sparingly and making excuses for not consuming proper meals is a possible sign of this eating disorder, but only when paired with boozing in the evenings.
- Problems getting out of bed and avoiding breakfast: The body craves sugar and hydration after excessive alcohol intake and anyone who has consumed alcohol must eat within hours later of alcohol consumption. If the person does not, he or she may be avoiding food on purpose.
- Bad skin from lack of nutrition: Anyone not getting the right amount of protein and minerals from a healthy diet will start to show physical signs of starvation. These include pale skin and spots, as well as swollen eyes and dark circles under them.
- General Fatigue: Coupled with one of the first two symptoms, this is a possible sign that drunkorexia could be imminent.
- Binge-drinking effects: Drinking until unconscious, vomiting, and, in extreme cases, hospitalization. If someone is drinking regularly and not eating enough, extreme symptoms of being drunk like this will start to increase.
Myths and Misconceptions About Drunkorexia
Generally, there is a misconception that, by reducing the number of food calories during the day, weight gain will balance out when a person binge drinks later. Also, those who wish to become intoxicated quickly avoid food in order to allow for more rapid absorption of alcohol from the stomach and small intestines. Finally, many people think that alcohol will provide them with calories to replace the ones they avoided earlier in the day. However, alcohol has no nutritional value, and the individuals are consuming what are considered “empty calories.”
Treatment for Drunkorexia
There is no specific treatment for “drunkorexia,” as it is not a medically diagnosable disorder. It is, as stated previously, a combination of two different disorders. Treatment will need to address both the eating disorder and the alcoholism, and not all treatment centers can address both. Additionally, there may be an underlying mental health disorder driving both the eating disorder and the alcohol addiction. An accurate diagnosis is vital to arresting both conditions.
Regaining healthy eating habits and maintaining abstinence can be done with the right information and tools. A dual diagnosis program supervised by addiction-certified physicians, psychiatrists, and therapist, can lead to an individualized plan for the patient and provide the support, knowledge, and skills necessary to rebuild his or her life. A general rule of thumb is the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.
1. Drunkorexia: Alcohol Mixes With Eating Disorders. ABC News. 21 October 2010. Web. 27 March 2013.