Drunkorexia

Calories don’t count on Halloween.

“I’ll take another beer, too,” says the 20-year-old panda to the underage Superman reaching into the ice chest.

“Might as well have cake instead – these beers have about the same number of calories,” superman grumbles.

Stumbling on her sixth drink, panda’s friend, a Mexican piñata, looks bothered, but she continues to sneak candy and chips-and-salsa trips outside.

The non-clinical term “drunkorexia” refers to a person’s attempt to manipulate his or her caloric intake in order to consume alcohol effectively – restricting daytime calories to have more expendable party calories.

According to the Eating Disorder Center of San Antonio (EDCASA), 30 percent of 18- to 23-years-olds forgo food to drink more alcohol. The University of Texas’ health module, Healthy Horns, cites this statistic as well. Additionally, college-aged adults who reported dieting and exercising for weight loss were over 20 percent more likely to have over five drinks in one sitting – an amount that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies as a drinking binge.

Neither a diagnosis nor a disease, Drunkorexia is simply a symptom; the fad’s prevalence among young adults indicates a disordered relationship with food and alcohol consumption. Propelled by getting drunk as soon as possible, drunkorexic behavior differs from its namesake anorexia, a psychological and bona-fide eating disorder.

“Drunkorexia is a recognized trend in the (medical) field,” said EDCASA director and founder Kay Watts. EDCASA offers partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient care for anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders.

“In a culture obsessed with thinness and dieting, combined with diet-focused alcohol advertising targeted at young people, college students are constantly on the receiving end of messages encouraging drinking and being ‘thin,’” said Watts, explaining the rising instance of drunkorexia among college students.

Dr. Ethan Emmons serves as one of EDCASA’s two on-site attending physicians. “It’s a social habit – you don’t eat, so you get drunk faster,” said Emmons about the trend. “Drunkorexia is not an eating disorder, but it is still a problem.”

The circumstances for caloric restriction before heavy drinking vary; motivations include preventing weight gain, getting drunk faster and saving money that would be spent on meals for alcohol and evening munching.

Is drunkorexia simply the habit of binge drinking on an empty stomach? “I don’t see it as an issue,” said UTSA junior Hunter Wood about drunkorexic behavior. “It’s saving money. If I ate before hand, it would take longer to get drunk because I’d have food in my stomach,” he explained.

“It’s like this,” continued Wood, “I’m watching college football all day on Saturday and the last game ends at like 10 p.m. If I’m going out at like 11 p.m., why am I going to eat then and then eat again later?”

Wood shrugged, “It’s not intentional – I get distracted. I feel like it’s only a thing if you already don’t eat anyway.”

“I don’t think that ‘drunkorexia’ is a fair term for college kids,” said Erica, a UTSA freshman who asked for her last name not to be disclosed. “We [college students] have really different schedules. Our Mondays are different from our Tuesdays… plus college is a good time to party.”

“I’m a freshman, so of course I want to go to all these parties and have all this fun,” laughed Erica, who exercises and cooks at home to stay in shape. “It’s kinda like a rite of passage – you go to college, you drink!”

Watts views the issue of restricting food before a night of drinking as both a social and a mental health concern. “In many circles it is a socially normalized behavior that can have severe consequences. It is a mental health issue as it involves choosing a behavior that can have negative impacts physically and mentally,” Watts stated.

Whether the driving intention of drunkorexic behavior is to get drunk faster, get drunk for less money or get drunk without gaining weight, forgoing regular meals for alcohol presents immediate and long-term concerns.

In addition to immediate and long-term cognitive complications, students might also experience difficultly studying, focusing and making decisions. Clinicians cite long-term effects of drunkorexia as gastritis, liver disease, dementia, ulcers and malnutrition – risks parallel to the health risks of excessive drinking habits.

Watts cautioned, “A problem with a drunkorexia trend on college campuses is that it can become a widespread and accepted practice. Students see no problem with practicing drunkorexia, nor realize the implications can be severe.”

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