Drunkorexia: A Dangerous Practice

Heavy drinking is considered by many to be a harmless rite of passage during the college years, the excessive use of alcohol presents a number of risks, including the possibility of serious alcoholism not far down the road.

While alcohol is a dangerous practice in itself, it is especially risky when students skip meals, exercise heavily or use laxatives during the day to offset calories they plan to consume in a night of drinking. Drinking on an empty stomach allows alcohol to be absorbed more quickly, thus intensifying the effect of alcohol.

The term for this dangerous practice is “drunkorexia.” Although not a medical term, drunkorexia is widely practiced on college campuses. The problem stems from a drive to attain the perfect body image put forth by the media. Drunkorexia was originally thought to affect women more than men, but it is believed to be an equal opportunity problem as men become more body- and weight-conscious.

The Dangers

Skipping meals before a night of drinking may not be a huge concern when practiced once or twice. However, it can quickly become a part of a student’s weekend routine. When the behavior becomes an obsession, it can be extremely dangerous.

Anorexia Nervosa - Drunkorexia is a dangerous form of anorexia nervosa, in which a person starves to avoid becoming overweight. Individuals with anorexia usually have an unhealthy, distorted body image in which they perceive themselves as being fat, even when the mirror says otherwise.

Malnutrition - Young people who skip meals tend to think they make up the calories by drinking alcohol. The danger, however, is that alcohol contains empty calories with absolutely no nutritional benefit. Some may vomit during drinking or binge on unhealthy junk foods after a drinking bout. Individuals may become seriously vitamin deficient, which can, in some cases, lead to irreversible brain damage.

Addiction – Anybody who abuses alcohol can develop an addiction. However, the risk is extremely high when a parent has an addiction disorder. It is believed that individuals with two addicted parents are seven times more likely to become addicted.

Treating Drunkorexia

If you have a problem with drunkorexia, or if you believe your college-age child is engaging in this dangerous practice, it important to seek help as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the higher the risk of addiction, impaired health and other serious adverse consequences.

As the name suggests, drunkorexia has elements of an eating disorder and an alcohol disorder. Young people who have developed a problem with drunkorexia may need to seek help from a drug and alcohol treatment center or rehab equipped to handle both problems – a situation known as dual diagnosis. Frequently, individuals who engage in this behavior need help with depression, anxiety or other underlying issues.

Addiction professionals urge colleges to educate both students and their children about drunkorexia, to regulate on-campus drinking events, and to discourage placement of bars and alcohol stores adjacent to campuses.

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