Alcohol consumption has become a major component of the college experience as documented through pop culture, social media, and other venues. While this may not be a reality for all students, the portrayal of American college life typically includes rampant alcohol consumption and abuse.
A strange phenomenon occurs with alcohol consumption among college students. Alcohol has almost become an intrinsic piece of the college experience, with many using it as a means of communicating and relating to others. Weekends typically revolve around parties, sporting events, and other gatherings that usually include some form of alcohol consumption. In order to accommodate these behaviors, some students have begun modifying their eating and exercise habits to allow for more alcohol consumption and quicker intoxication while simultaneously attempting to minimize side effects such as weight gain. This phenomenon has been dubbed “drunkorexia.”
What is Drunkorexia?
Drunkorexia is a new name for an old practice. It encompasses a variety of behaviors that are ultimately linked to the topic of calorie consumption. It involves skipping meals to “save calories” on days when one expects to drink, exercising excessively to compensate for alcohol consumption, and drinking to the point of throwing up to purge oneself of previously consumed meals. While the behavior is not exclusively found on college campuses, the phenomenon manifests primarily in these environments. Students use drunkorexia as a means of maintaining their weight while still feeling connected to situations and people through alcohol consumption.
The motivations behind these behaviors are familiar. For many students, drunkorexia is influenced by peer pressure, a desire to fit in, and wanting to feel more comfortable in social situations. Alcohol consumption is largely influenced by peers and the desire to alleviate social discomfort, and drunkorexia follows the same line of thinking. While managing weight is a major factor for some, the larger issue of social acceptance and peer pressure are some of the biggest influences on this behavior.
The Consequences of Drunkorexia
The practice of cutting back calories to compensate for alcohol consumption can be incredibly damaging over time. Prolonged periods of practicing these behaviors exacerbates the negative physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of alcohol consumption.
The physical consequences of drunkorexia are readily apparent. While cutting back calories may seem like a logical way to address overconsumption, alcohol itself has little to no nutritional value, which can actually lead to malnutrition if people are choosing to skip meals to “save calories.” Additionally, drinking on an empty stomach can actually cause a person to become intoxicated more quickly, leading to an increased risk for alcohol poisoning or overdose. Those who practice this behavior are more likely to experience blackouts, thereby putting themselves at risk for other dangerous alcohol-related injuries or consequences.
The practice of purging after alcohol consumption can lead some to develop other disorders. Since one of the major influences on drunkorexia is weight management, it is possible for some to develop eating disorders as a result. Skipping meals, purging, and excessive exercise are all symptoms of eating disorders and can lead to the development of other problematic conditions that may exacerbate symptoms of alcohol abuse. This can also have a profound impact on an individual’s mental health, affecting their self-image and confidence. When combined, these factors can all lead to serious health complications that have potentially irreversible consequences.
While drunkorexia is not actually a defined disorder at the moment, the behaviors that fall under this classification are problematic and indicative of a larger problem. Since this phenomenon primarily affects college students, drunkorexia highlights a larger problem with alcohol culture on college campuses and the desire to fit in. Alcohol is often used as a tool for connecting with others, and because of its highly visible presence on campus, it is incredibly difficult for students to avoid feeling pressure, whether real or imagined, to join in. The importance placed on physical appearance combined with a desire to fit in can put impressionable young adults at risk for long-term health consequences.
While the problem of drunkorexia can encompass many areas of society, it primarily affects those in the college space. Armed with this information, school officials can address the age-specific needs of students on college campuses. While addressing the problem of alcohol abuse on campuses, it is important to also address topics such as healthy eating and moderation. Alcohol consumption is so intrinsic to the college experience that it is almost impossible to advocate complete abstinence, making it critical to address the problem through a new lens. Tailoring discussion to help students make safe decisions regarding eating habits and consumption is critical in addressing the drunkorexia problem. High-risk students in particular—such as those in the Greek system, athletes, and freshmen—should be included in these discussions to help address topics of body image, self-esteem, and alcohol consumption in a productive way.