“Drunkorexia” Is the Latest Thing on Campus

Drunkorexia combines binge drinking with not eating on college campuses.  Although it’s not exactly a medical term, drunkorexia is an accepted slang term for the practice of trading calories from food for those from alcohol.  “It’s a sensationalized term, but it’s a tangible idea for students,” said Emily Hedstrom-Lieser of the Drug, Alcohol & Tobacco Education Office at the University of Northern Colorado, who is creating a series of events during Alcohol Awareness Week.  Sensationalized or not, the condition is becoming a serious problem on college campuses across the country.

Pam McCracken, communications director at the Colorado State University Health Center, deals with drunkorexia on a daily basis.  “They will think, ‘I’m drinking, therefore I don’t want to eat so much, so I’m going to have a mixed salad and a Diet Coke.’  I say, ‘Look, the day that you’re consuming alcohol is not the day to cut back on your calories.'”  Hedstrom-Lieser reports that students tell her how their classmates drink on an empty stomach and then binge on “drunk food” such as pizza, hotdogs and hamburgers; later they feel guilty and make themselves vomit.

A 2009 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders noted a connection between binge drinking (defined as four or more drinks in a single sitting) and eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa.  According to the authors, there is a “crucial need for early interventions targeting binge drinking among college-age women regardless of their current drinking status.”  Felicia Greher, a psychologist in Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Colorado at Boulder agrees, noting that “Typically when someone comes in for treatment, and they are diagnosed with an eating disorder, and they are abusing substances, they also receive a substance-abuse diagnosis.”

Dr. Kenneth L. Weiner, medical director at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, who has treated people with eating disorders for 25 years, says “The term ‘drunkorexia’ is not my favorite, but as it brings awareness to the problem, it’s probably fine.  Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness.  It’s an incredibly serious disorder.  When you’re starving yourself, your brain is really starved.  You’ve had the experience of drinking on an empty stomach?  These folks are drinking on an empty body.”

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