Mayday Hospital Care

In a scary new trend, more and more women are skipping meals in order to binge drink large amounts of alcohol and still stay thin.
In this article:

  • What is drunkorexia?
  • The similarities between drunkorexia, anorexia and bulimics
  • The consequences of excessive drinking on mental health.

A new eating disorder known as ‘drunkorexia’ is a phenomenon that’s becoming widespread across the country. Young women – often at university – are now swapping meals for a large glass of wine or six in order to keep their daily calorie intake to a minimum.

Experts say the habit has grown common in America amid growing pressure to stay thin at the same time as socialising – and drinking – more than ever before and is becoming increasingly popular in Britain.

Doctors say some slimming clubs that count calories in every food item, aiming to keep to a daily calorie limit, could be encouraging the new phenomenon.

Eating Disorder Information: What is Drunkorexia?

Alcohol contains more calories than carbs or protein, with one small glass of wine containing 150 to 170 calories. So an average pub glass of wine (usually 250ml) would hold as many calories as your lunch.

And it’s often difficult to stick to just one glass, especially in the binge drinking culture common among Brits and especially university students.

To get around this extra calorie consumption that they are not willing to sacrifice, drunkorexia simply cuts out their meals instead.

Many restrict their eating following a night out on the town too.

“We can’t know the true extent of how many women are behaving in this way because drunkorexia is able to get on with their lives,” says Dr Peter Rowan, an eating disorder specialist from Cygnet Health Care, a psychiatric care provider for patients with psychological, emotional and addiction problems.

“Doctors only see the more serious cases of eating disorders, where people are so paralysed by their problem that it takes over their lives.

I suspect that this balancing act is quite common among young women and overlaps into everyday behaviour, so it appears to be normal.”

Drunkorexia Health Risks: But Is it Really an Eating Disorder?

“Alcohol is an anti-anxiety drug, so people may have cravings to drink to alleviate the stress they feel in everyday life – and the anxiety caused by trying to control their weight,” says Rowan. “Many anorexics and bulimics develop alcohol dependency issues, too.

Essentially, this type of behaviour is habit-forming. It’s a version of an eating disorder, and many of these – and other addictive behaviours – overlap.”

And as with other eating disorders, drunkorexia’s health effects can be severe. Even if symptoms don’t include the extreme skinniness associated with anorexia, you’ll still get all the negative health implications linked with starving yourself, plus the dangers associated with alcohol misuse will be far more severe.

Like anorexia and bulimia sufferers, you won’t be getting all the vital nutrients your body needs to function properly, as alcohol packs on calories without providing any nutritional value.

Besides mental problems like anxiety, stress, constant tiredness, obsessive behaviour, depression and feeling cold and weak all the time, physically, you’re risking brittle bones and osteoporosis, internal organ damage, infertility, kidney and liver failure and more.

Plus, as drinking on an empty stomach will make you far more likely to vomit, you’re also looking at stomach and bowel problems, stomach ulcers and ruptures, chemical imbalances, heart palpitations and rotten teeth, among other risks.

Then you’ll also experience scary alcohol-related health problems – and we’re not just talking intensified versions of the immediate effects such as nausea, skin problems, headaches and passing out.

There’s also an increased risk of liver inflammation and possibly fatal scarring, lung problems, nutritional deficiencies and more.

Eating Disorders, Alcohol and Mental Health

The correlation between eating disorders and alcoholism has been established for some time. Last year a report published in the American journal Biological Psychiatry found that up to a third of bulimics struggle with alcohol or drug abuse too.

Another survey discovered that 36% of women receiving treatment for alcohol abuse also confessed to eating disorders.

Health professionals say the reasons we drink and the consequences of excessive drinking are intimately linked with our mental health, and this holds the key to dealing with growing worries about alcohol misuse.

“One of the least explored but most fundamentally important factors in the mental health of the general population is our use of alcohol,” says Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation. “However, mental health is swept under the carpet while debate focuses on the physical consequences of alcohol misuse.”

Recent figures show that 38% of men and 16% of women are drinking above recommended limits and can be classed according to World Health Organisation standards as having an alcohol use disorder.

This is equivalent to 8.2 million people in England alone – and 1.1 million people nationally are alcohol dependent.