During April’s Alcohol Awareness Month, and with National Alcohol Screening Day on April 11, experts are looking to increase awareness of a dangerous fad called drunkorexia.
Drunkorexia is an unofficial eating/alcohol abuse disorder that involves excessive exercise and dieting during the day in order to compensate for binge-drinking at night.
Dr. Harris Stratyner, the vice president of New York Clinical Regional Services at Caron New York's Recovery Center, said in an email that although women are more likely to hide this type of disorder, you can still notice the basic symptoms described above.
“I think it’s time ... we recognize this combination of disorders, as it’s become all too common,” he said. “Anorexia and alcoholism on their own are incredibly destructive to your body and can also have deadly consequences.”
He added that the disorder generally affects more women than men.
“Young adult women tend to be a common age group to be self-conscious, and even obsessive about weight and appearance,” Stratyner said.
He said one of the first steps to getting out of this vicious cycle is to consider the damage you’re doing to your body.
“It’s important to know that there is never a safe way to binge drink,” he stated.
“When you starve yourself in order to drink at the end of the day, you rob your body of necessary calories and much needed vitamins, which then results in extremely low energy levels.”
“Anorexia and binge drinking are a deadly combination and can lead to low fertility and ultimately decrease your chances of having children,” Stratyner added.
Drinking is popular in the media, and women are constantly pressured to lose weight, which adds to this growing disorder.
“The fad of low calorie cocktails doesn't help the case either, as women with this disorder feel they can drink more of these cocktails, since they don’t contain as many calories,” he said.
Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and psychology professor, said in an email that “drunkorexia” could be considered an “eating disorder not otherwise specified.”
Also, depending on specific individual behaviors, a person could be diagnosed with both anorexia nervosa or "eating disorder not otherwise specified", and a substance abuse or alcohol use disorder.
She said the unofficial disorder has been around for a while, but to her knowledge, received its new catchy name only recently.
“Basically, it is the deliberate control/restriction of calories by undereating, starvation and excessive exercise, followed by significant alcohol consumption, with the goal being restriction of calories during the day so the person can drink at day's end without incurring weight gain,” Durvasula said.
The side effects of drunkorexia can be endless. Durvasula provided a list of some of the possible side effects:
1) Physiological dependence
2) Medical side effects of anorexia
3) Amenorrhea (cessation of menstruation)
4) Cardiac side effects
5) Weakness from malnutrition
6) Difficulties with concentration
10) Inability to maintain responsibilities including school, work, and family
“In addition, because these folks are drinking heavily on an empty stomach, they will likely ramp up to intoxication more quickly, be more likely to engage in bad judgment of all kinds, which can make them more vulnerable to accidents, assault, and STIs,” Durvasula added.
Erica Ives, a marriage and family therapist and author of “Eating Disorders: Decode The Controlled Chaos,” said in an email that “drunkorexia” might be appealing because binge-drinking on an empty stomach leads to quick intoxication.
People who have this disorder might also try to drink so much that they vomit. This way, they may feel further justified in drinking more since they will just lose the calories again through vomiting.
She added that the disorder seems to be more prevalent in college students and people in their 20s, but anyone can suffer from it.
“I believe that when one has lower self-esteem, lacks a strong sense of self, struggles with body image issues as well as interpersonal relationships, are away from home for the first time and trying to find a way to navigate this vulnerable life transition, the risk for this condition increases greatly,” Ives said.
Would you like to be able to locate a screening site or take a screening online?
Screening for Mental Health has provided a website where it's all free and anonymous at http://www.howdoyouscore.org/
Stratyner, Harris. Email interview. April 10, 2013.
Durvasula, Ramani. Email interview. April 8, 2013.
Ives, Erica. Email interview. April 9, 2013.
National Alcohol Screening Day®
Alcohol Awareness Month
Reviewed April 11, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith