Drunkorexia: No eating, more drinking

Study shows drinking on an empty stomach can lead to long term cognitive effects. Photo by Brittany McGrail/ brittany.mcgrail@mu.edu

Consuming alcohol without eating, sometimes referred to as “drunkorexia,” is a growing trend among students and has long-term effects on the body.

In a survey completed by students at the University of Missouri-Columbia, one in six students said they restricted food in order to consume alcohol within the last year.

Victoria Osborne, assistant professor at the university and lead researcher, said the most common reasons to restrict food were to avoid gaining weight, get drunk faster and to save money on food in order to buy alcohol.

Of the respondents who said they engaged in drunkorexia behaviors, three out of four were women.

Osborne said there is a correlation between eating disorders and alcohol abuse, and such behaviors can begin at any point during one’s life. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, women who have either anorexia or bulimia outnumber men by 10 to one.

“People may not believe what they are doing is bad,” Osborne said.

Although the majority of respondents were women, men said they engaged in these behaviors as well. Osborne said most men who reported restricting their food in order to consume alcohol did so in order to save money so they could buy more beer.

Osborne said when people engage in risky drinking they put themselves at risk for STIs (sexually transmitted infections), HIV, drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, injury risk and perpetrating or being a victim of sexual assault.

She said not eating drops blood sugar levels, making it more likely that someone will pass out in the short term. If eating is continually restricted malnutrition, heart problems and cognitive disabilities may form.

Osborne said the negative effects on the body from both binge drinking and not eating are worrisome, but when they are combined people run into “double trouble.”

When engaging in drunkorexia behaviors, people put themselves at risk for seizure, comas and hospitalization. If these behaviors persist, organ, liver, kidney and gastrointestinal failure may occur, she said.

Students said they see their peers engage in drunkorexia behaviors for various reasons.

Camille Lienrance, a freshman in the College of Communication, said most students who engage in this behavior are underage students trying to get the maximum effect of the alcohol available to them.

“People don’t realize how dangerous this is,” she said.

Mark Long, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, said he sees his friends restrict their food in order to save money for alcohol. He said this is common, especially after the dining halls close.

Students also worry that some do not know the effects of their actions.

Kerri Byers, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, said attaching a name to this behavior will make people more cautious of drinking on an empty stomach.

“Girls who (restrict their food for alcohol) are concerned with the high calorie count of alcohol and want to avoid the freshman 15,” Byers said.

Marshall Mikolajczak, a freshman in the College of Business Administration, said he thinks drunkorexia should be addressed in the AlcoholEdu program that all Marquette incoming freshmen are required to complete.

“When students replace their calories with alcohol, they don’t think about the consequences,” he said.

Osborne said most respondents to the survey were freshmen and drunkorexia could be more or less prevalent across all ages. She said the next step in her research will be to see if the trend continues through life.

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