Teenage binge drinking and “drunkorexia” on the rise: Opinion

Jun 20, 2024

A recent article published in Forbes and authored by psychologist Mark Travers explored the rise of the phenomenon termed “drunkorexia,” which describes combined alcohol abuse and disordered eating behaviour.

According to research studies, drunkorexia behaviours include fasting, binge drinking, and reaching states of alcohol intoxication. In addition, it involves restricting food intake, engaging in excessive exercise, and/or in purging to compensate for the high caloric content of alcohol consumed.

Furthermore, research shows that drunkorexia behaviour is prevalent among college students and young adults. One research sample of Australian female university students revealed that over 79.1% of participants reported engaging in drunkorexia behaviour.

 “Drunkorexia deserves serious attention and intervention. Addressing it often requires professional guidance, a supportive environment, self-reflection, increased awareness of your coping mechanisms and whether they are truly serving you as well as a conscious effort to counteract inner critical thoughts with self-compassion,” concludes Travers. “Healing your relationship with food and alcohol is absolutely possible—the key lies in nurturing a healthier relationship with yourself.”

 Two driving factors behind drunkorexia behaviours have been identified as a drive for thinness and alleviating uncomfortable emotions. Specifically, one study showed that having a higher drive for thinness is associated with higher levels of drunkorexia. Due to societal pressures focusing on thinness, women tend to have more weight concerns than men, while research findings show that women who are heavy drinkers especially seek to control their weight, making them more susceptible to drunkorexia.

 Other research showed that drunkorexia can be used by young adults as a coping mechanism for emotional and psychological stressors, such as depression and anxiety. Moreover, drunkorexia is also associated with a lack of awareness around internal bodily sensations such as hunger and satiety signals.

Importantly, drunkorexia creates significant health risks, including nutritional deficiencies, reduced immune system function, an increased risk of alcohol poisoning, as well as organ damage, and exacerbated mental health issues.