By: Kristin Canan, LMSW
As the college year kicks off for many adults, we know that more people will be at risk for what pop culture likes to call “Drunkorexia.” Drunkorexia is limiting calorie intake before drinking alcohol through restriction of food and/or exercising before drinking. Drunkorexia can also include binge eating behaviors after drinking due to lack of inhibition and associated starvation and compensatory behaviors, such as vomiting or over-exercising the next day, to get rid of calories from the alcohol or food consumption. For many, Drunkorexia also occurs because people feel the effects of the alcohol faster on an empty stomach.
I know some of you are thinking, well, of course, college students do this; they drink a lot. Many of us did this to feel the effects of the alcohol faster or keep our shape. It is just a college thing. Know that these behaviors are most common in college settings; however, they do not limit themselves to only college students. Let’s break down the dangers of engaging in these Drunkorexia behaviors and identify when it may be time to get help for you or someone you love.
The Dangers of Drunkorexia
- Yes, limiting caloric intake before drinking will get you drunk faster. Getting drunk faster means your blood alcohol content is rising at a rapid rate. Blood alcohol content rising quickly can be dangerous as you can feel fine one moment and black out the next. Being black out drunk puts you at risk for brain damage.
- High rates of alcohol consumption can also lead to liver failure and heart complications, such as strokes.
- Research shows that the more alcohol someone consumes, the more at risk they are for developing alcohol dependence as their brain learns to rely on that substance to function.
- Restricting calories can lead to engagement in binge eating later. Our bodies are wired to survive and get the calories they need to function.
- Your body needs a balance of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients (like proteins, fats, and grains) to function effectively. If we are not nourishing our bodies with what they need, our ability to think clearly will diminish, we will lose muscle and bone function, and eventually, our bodies will start using the energy intended for our important organs (like our hearts and our brains) to function.
- Electrolyte imbalances can occur, which can lead to irregular heartbeat, blood pressure changes, bone disorders, confusion, seizures, numbness, twitching, kidney failure, fatigue, and overall weakness.
- Vomiting can cause esophageal tears, teeth deterioration, and contribute to electrolyte imbalances.
- Focusing on what you are or are not going to eat, how much you exercise, and how much you drink may inhibit your ability to engage in meaningful relationships with family and friends or commitments at work or school.
- Even if you are telling yourself that this is “just a college thing,” research suggests that engagement in these behaviors at any point can greatly exacerbate the chances of developing long term eating disorders and substance use disorders.
When to Get Help: If you experience any of the below, it may be time to seek support from a professional.
- You use alcohol, restriction of food, vomiting, or over-exercising to feel emotional relief
- Responsibilities start to fall to the wayside. You start missing classes, appointments, family engagements, etc.
- You have difficulties with concentration and/or motivation
- Your grades start slipping
- You start isolating from friends/family
- You engage in high-risk behaviors (like driving after drinking or having sex with many people)
- You ruminate on what your body looks like
- Your view of your body is different than other people’s view of your body (for example, you believe you are overweight, but the feedback you get from others is that you are thin)
- You obsess over everything you eat and count calories
- You struggle to eat with other people because you do not want anyone to notice how much you are (or are not) eating
- You intentionally vomit to get rid of calories from food or alcohol or to feel emotional relief
- You experience withdrawal symptoms the day following drinking that are indicative of alcohol dependence (shaking, nausea/vomiting, sweating, rapid heart rate, agitation, restlessness, irritability, anxiety, etc.)
- You have a drink in the morning to “help you feel better” from the effects of drinking the day before
- You obsess over the next time you will get to drink or exercise
- You experience depression, anxiety, or trauma responses when you are not drinking, restricting, vomiting, or over-exercising
All the symptoms listed above are suggestive that your brain has become reliant on your eating disorder and/or alcohol-related behaviors. It can be scary to reach out for help, but it is worth it. Your alcohol and eating behaviors have served a valid purpose in your life; however, it is possible to find other ways to meet those needs before what you use to feel better about yourself, and your environment takes control.
Magnolia Creek specializes in supporting people who struggle with co-occurring eating disorders and substance use disorders. Our team would be happy to speak with you about what support would look like at Magnolia Creek and/or provide you support resources in your own community. Please reach out to us by calling 205-409-4220 or completing our contact form. You never have to figure this out on your own.