Eating disorders alone are serious illnesses, but when they co-occur with substance abuse, the stakes…
Alcoholism and Eating Disorders
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are two eating disorders that typically affect teen and adolescent girls. In essence, girls who suffer from eating disorders have an intense, and often unreasonable, fear of getting fat. To ensure that no weight will be gained, anorexics will reduce their daily caloric intake to almost nothing. Bulimics will eat, only to later purge by vomiting, taking laxatives, taking diuretics or a combination of all three.
When these girls hit college, however, they are faced with a new set of challenges. Not only must they learn how to eat in dining halls and hide their lifestyle from roommates and friends, but they also encounter opportunities for drinking on a level never experienced before. Along with drinking alcohol comes the conundrum of how to deal with the additional empty calories; these calories must be regulated and controlled in the same way that calories from food are controlled. Emotionally, these girls must also adjust to their new surroundings and often feel intense pressure to look and act a certain way, especially if they want to be part of a sorority in the Greek system.
Regulating caloric intake in order to allow for the consumption of alcoholic beverages without gaining weight now has its own name — “drunkorexia”. In order to reduce the intake of food, those engaged in drunkorexia develop coping mechanisms such as working out during regular mealtimes, eating only once a day or throwing up just before a night of drinking. Some bulimics will binge on both food and alcohol and then vomit it all back up at the same time.
Drunkorexia is becoming another alcohol-related epidemic on college campuses. Even girls who entered college without an eating disorder quickly adopt drunkorexia as a way to maintain their weight while being able to drink.
Although drunkorexia is mainly prevalent among females, some college-age males have also jumped on the bandwagon in order to avoid gaining weight from drinking beer. Some males engage in drunkorexia as a way to save money, as you can become drunker with less alcohol if you drink on an empty stomach. It also may be an economic necessity – faced with the choice of being able to afford dinner or an evening of drinking, most will choose to drink.
Research has shown that alcohol advertisements that tout low calorie beers have increased the prevalence of drunkorexia on college campuses; these ads both remind the students that they need to stay thin and providing them with a way to do it. Some pro-anorexia websites even offer tips on how to drink without gaining weight.
As with all drinking problems, mental health professionals feel that addiction is at the root of drunkorexia. In fact, researchers have found that alcohol abuse and eating disorders occur together often, sometimes along with other psychiatric or personality disorders.