Eating Less, Binge-Drinking, Are on the Rise

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December 2009 Volume 20, Number 6
©2009 Gürze Books

Drunkorexia is a slang term for a condition in young women who choose to eat less during the day so they can party hearty and binge-drink without gaining weight. This past summer, clinicians at the Eating Disorders Center of Denver (EDC-D) noted an increase in eating disorder patients with binge-drinking problems. Of all the college-aged females enrolled in the program, 75% met the criteria for alcohol abuse.

Although coexisting substance abuse is seen among many persons with eating disorders, eating less to binge-drink most frequently involves college-aged females who are diagnosed with bulimia nervosa and who also binge-drink. Often, they either starve themselves all day to offset the caloric intake associated with consuming large amounts of alcohol or binge on food and/or alcohol, then purge. Over the last 10 years, the prevalence of both eating disorders and binge drinking has increased on college campuses, said Dr. Tamara Pryor, EDC-Ds clinical director.

Carrie Wilkins, a clinical psychologist and addictions expert, says there have been no formal statistics following this particular behavior but the statistics that are available show that 30% of young women with alcohol problems also have some form of eating disorder. Dr. Wilkins, cofounder and clinical director of the Center for Motivation and Change, a private group practice in New York City, says limiting food intake before a night of drinking can cause severe health problems for young women.

Food slows the absorption and acts as a buffer from becoming intoxicated too quickly, Dr. Wilkins said. She added, That first drink after not having eaten all day–and in some cases these girls do not eat for many days in a row–that first drink has a big effect. Theyre at risk for passing out and there may be really terrible consequences.

Long-term health effects for women

In addition to the immediate consequences, there also are some long-term effects to such behavior. Studies have shown that the female body doesnt process alcohol in the same way as the male body. Women are more likely than men to become dependent on alcohol and to suffer from physical and sexual abuse while intoxicated. Studies also have linked drinking excess alcohol to higher incidences of breast cancer. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, female alcoholics have death rates 50% to 100% higher than those of male alcoholics, including deaths from suicides, alcohol-related accidents, heart disease and stroke, and liver cirrhosis

Womens bodies have more fat, which absorbs alcohol, and produces lower quantities of an enzyme that helps metabolize alcohol, putting them at higher risk for blackouts and cirrhosis. One addiction expert, Becky Flood, Executive Director of New Directions for Women, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Orange County, CA, has estimated that two years of womens drinking equals 10 years of a mans. And, finally, just like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, drunkorexia stems from a preoccupation with weight and a desire to be as slim as possible.

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