Binge drinking causes' drunkorexia in young women

Binge drinking may lead to a condition called "drunkorexia," a new study from the University of South Australia found.

Drunkorexia is an extreme behavioral pattern, which involves starving oneself during the day and binge drinking after.

A team of researchers in Australia aimed to investigate further the prevalence of drunkorexia behavior among young adult females in the country.

In the study, published in the journal Australian Psychologist, the researchers found that female university students are making extreme choices to stay in shape while maintaining their social drinking habits.

Image Credit: Zoriana Zaitseva / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Zoriana Zaitseva / Shutterstock

A damaging and dangerous behavior

The study was the first one to explore the underlying belief patterns that contribute to drunkorexia, which is a damaging and dangerous behavior. Women with this condition often experience disordered patterns of eating to offset the negative effects of binge drinking, like gaining weight.

The researchers examined the drinking patterns of nearly 500 female Australian university students between the ages of 18 and 24.

Of the surveyed students, 82.7 percent had engaged in drunkorexic behaviors over the past three months. At least 25 percent of the time, more than 28 percent deliberately skipped meals, consumed low-calorie or sugar-free alcoholic beverages, and purged or exercised after drinking to reduce the number of ingested calories from alcohol.

Key to understanding drunkorexia

The study was performed in two stages. First, the team measured the prevalence of self-reported compensative and restrictive activities linked to alcohol consumption. Next, they identified the Early Maladaptive Schemes (EMS) of the participants.

The EMS is also known as thought patterns, which can be the key to understanding the harmful condition. These are often profoundly held and persistent themes about oneself and relationships with others, which can develop and can influence many aspects of life, often in dysfunctional ways.

The drunkorexic behavior was fueled by two social norms for young adults – alcohol drinking and thinness or being in shape.

"It is important that clinicians, educators, parents, and friends are aware of the factors that motivate young women to engage in this harmful and dangerous behavior, including cultural norms, beliefs that drive self-worth, a sense of belonging, and interpersonal connectedness. By being connected, researchers and clinicians can develop appropriate clinical interventions and support for vulnerable young people within the youth mental health sector," Ms. Powell-Jones, Clinical psychologist and lead University of South Australia researcher, said.

Deeply concerning

The results of the survey are concerning since excessive alcohol consumption, mixed with restrictive and disordered eating patterns, is extremely dangerous.

Powell-Jones says that young adults are at a high risk of engaging in extreme and risk-taking behaviors, such as drinking excess alcohol.

She added that binge drinking could substantially increase the risk of developing physical and psychological consequences, including liver cirrhosis, nutritional deficits, hypoglycemia, brain and heart damage, blackouts, memory lapses, cognitive deficits, and depression.

"Certainly, many of us have drunk too much alcohol at some point in time, and we know just by how we feel the next day, that this is not good for us, but 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," Ms. Powell-Jones added.

Alcohol consumption in young adults

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that in 2018, more than 36.9 percent of college students between the ages of 18 and 22 in the United States reported binge drinking in the past month. Another 9.6 percent said they had heavy alcohol use in the past month.

Alcohol abuse is a global issue. Excess alcohol intake is causing millions of deaths, including those of young adults.

In Australia, about one in six people drink alcohol at dangerous and risky levels, placing them at a lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury.

Journal reference:
Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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