Drunkorexia: The dangers of alarming drinking trend

Skipping meals before binge-drinking, or exercising solely to offset alcohol-induced calories – ‘drunkorexia’ is becoming more common, and it is worrying experts.

Enjoying a bevvy or two is a part of Aussie culture, but one in six Australians drinks at a level that puts them into a lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury.

And new research by the University of South Australia has highlighted a worrying new drinking trend among young women.

The study of 479 female university students found more than 82 per cent had purposely skipped meals, consumed low-calorie or sugar-free alcoholic beverages, purged or exercised after drinking to help reduce calories ingested from alcohol in the past three months – and almost a third did so regularly.

What is drunkorexia, and what are the causes behind it?

While drunkorexia is not a medical term or formally recognised disorder, it describes damaging and risky behaviour where eating patterns are changed to “offset the negative effects of consuming excess alcohol, such as gaining weight”.

“When nearly a third of young female uni students are intentionally cutting back on food purely to offset alcohol calories, it’s a serious health concern,” explains clinical psychologist and lead UniSA researcher Alycia Powell-Jones.

Butterfly Foundation clinician and national helpline team leader Amelia Trinick says drunkorexic behaviour can be fuelled by a wide range of experiences and motivations.

“We do know that some common factors may include low body esteem coupled with a misunderstanding of the risks involved,” Amelia says.

“For some, there may also be an element of social pressure to both engage in excessive or binge drinking as well as maintaining a body type that fits in to what is considered as conventionally acceptable.”

The risks of drunkorexia —and how to minimise them

“Excess alcohol consumption, combined with restrictive and disordered eating patterns, is extremely dangerous and can dramatically increase the risk of developing serious physical and psychological consequences,” says Alycia.

Some of the health risks include:

  • Hypoglycaemia
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Nutritional deficits
  • Brain and heart damage
  • Memory lapses
  • Blackouts
  • Depression
  • Cognitive impairment

“This behaviour has been normalised in so many settings, but it’s important to remember that it can lead both to immediate and ongoing mental and physical health concerns and will never work as a sustainable balanced lifestyle,” says Amelia.

Glow Group Health and Wellbeing director and dietitian Jessica Tilbrook says eating regularly and adequately is important when drinking alcohol.

That could be eating a snack or meal before you go out, or enjoying a share plate with friends while you’re out.

Stay hydrated by drinking water in between drinks, and consider a mocktail to have a break between alcoholic drinks.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing an eating disorder or body image concerns, contact the Butterfly Foundation national helpline on 1800 33 4673.

Written by Tania Gomez.