When you think of trends, things like music, fashion, and other fads may come to mind. When it comes to substance abuse, unfortunately, there are also trends that occur. One of these trends is called drunkorexia, which is also known as an “alcohol eating disorder.”
Drunkorexia is not an officially diagnosed eating disorder, but rather it is a term used to describe a dangerous combination of behaviors. These behaviors include restricting food and calories during the day in order to “save up” for alcohol later, as well as purging after drinking in order to offset the calories consumed from alcohol.
While drunkorexia is not included in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V), it is a serious condition that is recognized by mental health professionals. At Intrepid Detox, we understand the complexities of alcohol abuse. In this blog, we will discuss why the fusion of alcoholism and disordered eating is a disturbing trend.
What is Drunkorexia?
As previously mentioned, drunkorexia is a term used to describe the dangerous combination of behaviors that include restricting food and calories during the day in order to “save up” for alcohol later, as well as purging after drinking in order to offset the calories consumed from alcohol.
The combination of an alcohol use disorder and an eating disorder is highly concerning for many reasons. First, when alcohol is consumed on an empty stomach, it is absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream. This can lead to a rapid increase in blood alcohol levels and a more intense “high.”
Concerningly, it can also lead to memory loss, blackouts, and impaired judgment. Second, restricting food and calories can lead to serious health consequences, including electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and organ damage. And finally, purging after drinking can lead to a host of problems, including heart arrhythmias and gastrointestinal bleeding.
The Consequences of Drunkorexia
People who engage in drunkorexia behaviors put themselves at risk for a host of negative consequences. When you drink on an empty stomach, your body’s blood alcohol content rises quickly. Therefore, the likelihood of dangerous alcohol-associated behaviors can ensue.
These behaviors can include driving while intoxicated, violence, assault, and other uninhibited behaviors. For example, purging after drinking can lead to electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and organ damage. And finally, purging after drinking can lead to a host of problems, including heart arrhythmias and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Overall, drunkorexia can lead to long-term health problems. As with any eating disorder, drunkorexia can have serious consequences on your physical and mental health. The addition of excessive drinking also leads to many health complications, both physical and mental.
The Physical Consequences of Drunkorexia
People who drink on an empty stomach believe that they are warding off unwanted calories and getting drunk faster, but that is not all drunkorexia does physically. These habits can harm the body physically, with some consequences being permanent.
Physically, drunkorexia can lead to many adverse health effects, such as:
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Heart arrhythmias
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Organ damage
- Alcohol poisoning
- Alcohol-related brain damage
The Mental Consequences of Drunkorexia
There are a variety of different mental and emotional consequences of drunkorexia. These can range from trouble focusing to serious conditions such as depression. Mentally, drunkorexia can lead to the following adverse mental health effects:
- Memory problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Poor decision-making
- Problems with impulse control
Who is at Risk of Developing Drunkorexia
The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reports that drunkorexia is common amongst college students. Multiple studies have indicated that up to a third of these students reduce the amount of food they eat to compensate for calories gained from drinking alcohol. Some studies find that the rates of these behaviors in college students are even higher.
Another group that experiences high rates of drunkorexia is women. Women are more likely to experience drunkorexia than men are. In particular, women who experience more sexual objectification than others are at an increased risk of engaging in drunkorexia habits. This is because they often internalize the message that their worth is based on their physical appearance.
While men also face pressures regarding physical appearance, women tend to strive for thinness while men aim for muscularity. The gendered pressures for women to remain thin combined with the pressure from mainstream culture to be sexually attractive can cause a woman to engage in these dangerous behaviors.
How to Tell if Someone has Drunkorexia
There are several physical and behavioral symptoms that may indicate that someone is struggling with drunkorexia. Physical symptoms can include fatigue, dizziness, fainting, blackouts, and a decrease in coordination. Drunkorexia can also lead to dehydration, which can cause dry mouth, headache, and dark circles under the eyes.
At times, the behavioral symptoms of drunkorexia can be easier to distinguish from the physical symptoms. You may notice the following behavioral signs in someone who suffered from this condition:
- Excessive exercising, especially after drinking or eating
- Expressing “regret” over the caloric content of drinks and food
- Hyperfixation on compensating for the calories in alcohol consumed
- Low self-esteem or poor self-image
- Increased emotion dysregulation, mood swings, and irritability
- Reduced caloric intake
- Constantly engaging in dieting behaviors
- Use or possession of laxatives and diuretics
- Binge eating followed by self-professed feelings of regret and/or shame
If you notice these signs in someone close to you, or even in yourself, there is help available. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional for guidance on how to get started on the road to recovery. While drunkorexia may seem like a new trend, it is actually an extension of an existing eating disorder and alcoholism. Treatment for both of these disorders exists to help individuals overcome them.
What Causes Drunkorexia?
There is no single cause of drunkorexia. Rather, it is believed to be caused by a combination of factors. These factors range from cultural influences to individual experiences.
One of the most significant cultural influences is the media. The media often portrays thinness as the ideal body type for women. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem in women who do not fit this ideal.
In addition, the media also portrays alcohol use as a fun and glamorous activity. This can cause individuals to overindulge in alcohol. However, their concern with maintaining a thin body can lead to behaviors associated with drunkorexia.
Is Drunkorexia a Dual Diagnosis?
Yes, drunkorexia can be considered a dual diagnosis. A dual diagnosis is when a person suffers from both a mental disorder and a substance abuse disorder. In the case of drunkorexia, the mental disorder is an eating disorder and the substance abuse disorder is alcoholism.
Often, each condition makes the other worse or contributes to the unhealthy use of coping mechanisms. For example, someone with drunkorexia may use alcohol as a way to cope with the negative feelings and body image issues associated with their eating disorder.
During dual diagnosis treatment, individuals are treated for both conditions at once. This is essential to prevent harmful and long-lasting effects of a mental health condition and a substance use disorder.
What Are the Treatment Options for Drunkorexia?
If you or someone you know is struggling with drunkorexia, there are several treatment options available to treat this serious condition. The first step is reaching out to a healthcare professional or mental health provider. From there, you will be able to develop a treatment plan that best suits your needs.
Treatment for drunkorexia may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on helping an individual with negative thought patterns. This therapy can help drunkorexics learn how to cope with triggers and cravings.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT is another type of psychotherapy that teaches people how to deal with difficult emotions. This therapy can be especially helpful for drunkorexics who also struggle with impulsivity.
- Individual therapy: One-on-one therapy with a mental health professional can help a drunkorexic discover why they are exhibiting these behaviors in the first place.
- Family therapy: Family therapy can help drunkorexics and their loved ones understand the disorder and how to best support each other.
- Group therapy: Group therapy allows drunkorexics to share their experiences with others who are going through similar struggles. This can be a helpful way to build support and gain insight from others.
Overall, the combined presence of an alcohol use disorder and an eating disorder is not a life sentence. While these conditions must be maintained, balance and stability are possible. With the help of a treatment center, you can begin to take steps towards a healthier, happier life.
Detoxing with Intrepid Detox
If you or someone you love is struggling with drunkorexia, please reach out for help. There are people who care and who want to see you get better. Here at Intrepid, we can help you take the first critical steps in the healing process.
Addiction treatment often begins with medical detox. This is especially true for someone who is addicted to alcohol. During alcohol detox, our team of highly trained medical professionals will help you through the withdrawal process and make sure that you are as comfortable as possible. We understand that detox is a difficult and often daunting process, which is why we will be there with you every step of the way.
After you have completed detox, you will begin an addiction treatment program. At Intrepid we offer residential treatment. This provides sour clients with around-the-clock care in a safe and supportive environment. Our team will help you develop the skills and knowledge that you need to live a sober life. Contact us today to get started.