The real dangers of ‘drunkorexia’

DR. STEPHEN GOYKOVICH

Drinking at college is nothing new; however, one disturbing trend takes this dangerous practice to a new level. It’s called “drunkorexia,” and it’s when men or women restrict food, exercise hard or binge eat and purge before drinking excessively.

“The goal of drunkorexia is to get drunker faster or trade food calories for alcohol calories, but it’s a dangerous practice that can lead to other unsafe drinking habits or cause people to get injured, very sick with alcohol poisoning or even die,” said Stephen Goykovich, D.O., Geisinger Jersey Shore Medical Associates.

According to experts, drunkorexia is not a new phenomenon. It was previously thought that 14 to 38 percent of college students-mostly women-traded food calories for alcohol calories. However, new research shows that 81 percent of college students had taken part in an aspect of drunkorexia.

“The number of college students participating in dangerous drinking habits is alarming, to say the least,” said Dr. Goykovich. It’s not known how prevalent drunkorexia is outside of college campuses.

Combining aspects of excessive drinking with those of an eating disorder can create physical, mental and emotional problems.

Skipping lunch or dinner before a night of drinking makes you feel drunk faster, which puts you at risk for making bad decisions. It also deprives you of nutrients you need to function at your best-which can be a big problem for college students trying to excel at their schoolwork.

Drunkorexia can also combine heavy drinking with binge eating and purging-effectively purging the body of calories and nutrients to replace them with alcohol in an effort to stay slim.

“Bingeing and purging before drinking can slowly transition to an eating disorder where a person might binge and purge regularly to cut calories,” said Dr. Goykovich. “What begins as a way to get drunk faster slowly can become a very serious health problem.”

Drunkorexia isn’t the only drinking problem prevalent on college campuses; nearly two-thirds of college students engage in binge drinking.

Binge drinking is consuming enough alcohol to bring a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08 grams percent or above. For men, that typically equates to five drinks in two hours. For women, it’s about four drinks in two hours. Compared to moderate drinking, binge drinking can lead to more blackouts and brain damage associated with drinking alcohol.

Drinking to get drunk and binge drinking might not seem like much more than a fun night out and a hangover the next morning to many young people, but it’s actually associated with about 88,000 deaths each year. It’s also associated with dangers like driving under the influence, risky sexual behavior and violence.

During college, binge drinking and drunkorexia may seem more commonplace, but they are never safe.

“College students are more likely to binge drink if they perceive it as normal, so it’s important to educate them about drinking responsibly,” said Dr. Goykovich.

It’s important that college students understand what a drink is: 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Pacing is also important to drinking responsibly-the quicker you drink alcohol, the more it will affect you. One common technique is to alternate drinking alcohol with water. This not only keeps you hydrated, it also gives your body time to metabolize the alcohol.

It’s also important not to drink on an empty stomach.

“Eating a meal before drinking provides nutrients that students need to stay healthy and also slows the absorption into the blood stream,” said Dr. Goykovich. “If you think you or a friend has a problem with drinking, an eating disorder or both, get help.”

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Stephen Goykovich, D.O., is a Geisinger primary care physician at the Avis Medical Center. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Goykovich or another primary care physician, please call 570-753-8620.

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