Drunkorexia: When Eating Disorders and Alcohol Abuse Collide


These pressures are leading many students to make dangerous trade-offs when it comes to alcohol and food. In a recent study, more than 80 percent of college students reported that they skipped meals, binged on food and purged, or used a laxative, so that they could “save calories” and binge drink without gaining weight and/or increase the effects of alcohol. These behaviors are associated with a trend called “drunkorexia.” Drunkorexia is not a medical diagnosis, but it describes the growing trend of college students sacrificing nutrition for alcohol.

The Surprising Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Alcohol Abuse

Though not everyone who engages in food restricting and binge drinking will go on to develop an eating disorder or an alcohol addiction, they may be at higher risk. Research has shown that 50 percent of women who reported eating disorder behaviors also struggled with drug and substance use disorders. That is a rate of risk five times higher than that those without eating disorders.

Alcohol use disorders tend to be particularly common among people with eating disorders, because of the way they interact with one another. Alcohol can be used to help induce vomiting—especially when consumed in excess on an empty stomach—and to facilitate dehydration. Alcohol can also be used to help numb the feelings of fear and anxiety that women with eating disorders carry with them. They tend to fear both weight gain, and someone finding out about their unhealthy behaviors.

Even if the person exhibiting signs of drunkorexia doesn’t end up with long-term, co-occuring disorders, the behaviors in and of themselves can be dangerous. Drinking on an empty stomach allows alcohol to be absorbed into the blood stream more quickly, which increases the likelihood of alcohol poisoning, blackouts, memory loss, and alcohol-related violence. Severe cases can even lead to permanent brain damage.

Overcoming Drunkorexia Requires Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Treating someone who struggles with both an eating disorder and an addiction can be complex. Often patients end up in a treatment center that specializes in either the eating disorder, or the substance abuse, but not both. Since the two disorders do interact and, in some ways, depend upon one another, it’s important to find a program that can treat both disorders at the same time. If a person enters into recovery from their eating disorder but not from their alcoholism, they are much more likely to relapse. The use of the alcohol will likely trigger the impulse to purge or restrict again and interfere with their judgment when it comes to making healthy choices about food.

If you or a loved one needs help for both an eating disorder and substance use disorder, you’ll want a treatment center like The Meadows Ranch that offers an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to treatment. The Meadows Ranch offers medical supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week, along with talk therapies, experiential therapies (like equine therapy and challenge courses), family programming, nutritional and culinary training, and the latest neurobehavioral techniques for treating emotional trauma.

For more information about The Meadows Ranch’ inpatient, partial hospitalization, and residential treatment for women and adolescent girls, please call 866-390-6100. Our Intake Specialists are happy to answer any questions you may have and help you decide if The Meadows Ranch is right for you.

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