Drunkorexia: More than half of all female university students skip meals before a big night so they can save calories for alcohol
By Emily Crane For Daily Mail Australia
June 29, 2016
The research, led by University of South Australia PhD student Alissa Knight, found an unexpected number of women reported they only used behaviours like starvation, purging or extreme exercise when they were thought they would be going out drinking, such as on a Saturday night at a party.
‘The most common drunkorexia behaviours in young female university students were skipping meals before a drinking event (37.5%), consuming low-calorie or sugar-free alcoholic beverages during a drinking event (46.3%), and exercising after a drinking event (51.2%),’ Ms Knight said.
The research, which was published in Australian Psychologist on Thursday, found the women who only engage in drunkorexia-type behaviour when they know they have a night out coming up generally lead a normal life when alcohol is not involved.
‘This finding suggests that drunkorexia may represent a new subtype of eating disorder that differs from traditional eating disorders on the basis of the underlying motivation,’ Ms Knight said.
‘Whereas traditional eating disorders are generally motivated by an underlying desire to be thin and to be in control, drunkorexia predominately appears to be motivated by a desire to drink large quantities of alcohol alongside the desire to be thin.
‘Drunkorexia appears to have evolved from the need for young girls to meet possibly the two most prominent social norms for young adults – drinking and thinness.’
While drunkorexia is not currently a medical term, Ms Knight said concern was rising among health professionals about the effects this behaviour could have on cognitive, behavioural, and physical health outcomes.
Women who engage in drunkorexia-type behaviour are more at risk of developing conditions like hypoglycaemia, liver cirrhosis, nutritional deficits, brain and heart damage, memory lapses, blackouts, depression and cognitive deficits due to increased alcohol toxicity.
UniSA Psychology Clinic Director, Dr Susan Simpson, who supervised the research, said heavy alcohol use on an empty stomach or after strenuous exercise was known to be vastly more dangerous than binge drinking.
‘Women typically weigh less, have less alcohol-metabolising enzymes, and less total body water to dilute alcohol in the blood, and these differences in alcohol metabolism make them more vulnerable than men in developing cirrhosis, brain damage, or other health conditions resulting from alcohol misuse,’ Dr Simpson said.