Every year, thousands of college students die from alcohol-related accidents.
Binge drinking on college campuses is a major concern for school administrators, parents, and even students.
Excessive drinking has been linked to increased risk of poor academic performance, criminal behavior, and unsafe sexual practices. Every year more than 1,800 college students die from alcohol-related accidents. Nearly 700,000 students are assaulted by another peer who has been drinking.
When people drink alcohol on an empty stomach, it can raise their risk of experiencing its negative effects.
That’s one of the reasons that some experts are concerned about a phenomenon known as “drunkorexia.”
“There’s no clear definition of what ‘drunkorexia’ is in the research literature,” Miriam Eisenberg Colman, PhD, a scientist at the Fors Marsh Group, told Healthline, “but I would call it a restriction of food, carbohydrates, or calories prior to consuming alcohol.”
For example, someone who’s participating in “drunkorexic” behavior might skip a meal before they visit the bar, in an effort to offset the calories they plan to consume from alcohol
Other researchers have used the term more broadly, to include not just food restriction but also excessive exercise before or after drinking.
Although “drunkorexia” isn’t a clinical term or formal diagnosis, it does share some traits with recognized eating disorders.
“It’s not an official diagnosis,” Lauren Smolar, director of programs at the National Eating Disorders Association, told Healthline, “but it does involve eating disordered behaviors, such as restriction, binge eating, and purging.”
According to , up to a third of college students say they reduce the amount of food they eat before drinking in order to compensate for the calories in alcohol.
Some studies have found even higher rates of this behavior.
It might be putting many students at increased risk of alcohol-related accidents and other negative consequences of drinking.
“If they’re not eating prior to consuming alcohol, they’re more likely to get drunk, and then they’re more likely to experience negative effects of alcohol,” Eisenberg Colman said, “such as blacking out, getting into a fight, getting sick, having a hangover, or getting taken advantage of sexually.”
“All the negative effects of alcohol,” she continued, “people can have those more often or sometimes get to that point quicker if they haven’t eaten.”
In some of her research, Eisenberg Colman has found that women are more likely than men to cut back on food before drinking alcohol.
In particular, her research team that women who experience more sexual objectification are more likely to engage in this behavior.
This disparity might reflect the gendered pressures that women face to be thin, as well as the high social value that’s placed on women’s sexual attractiveness in mainstream culture.
Although men and women both face pressure to conform to idealized body types, women are more likely to strive for thinness while men are more likely to aim for muscular physiques.
To help prevent “drunkorexia,” some researchers have called on college administrators and public health officials to develop prevention programs that promote safer drinking practices.
According to Eisenberg Colman, it might also help to target some of the social pressures that push many women and others to prioritize weight control over other health concerns.
“We know that risk factors for ‘drunkorexia’ include experiencing sexual objectification, for example,” she said, “so that would suggest that anything that can be done to reduce objectification could theoretically help mitigate the effects on ‘drunkorexia.'”
“Relatedly, we know that desire to lose weight or avoid gaining weight is one reason that a lot of people engage in ‘drunkorexia,'” she continued, “so anything that can be done to reduce the influence of that desire, and maybe help people think that preventing the effects of alcohol is more important than preventing weight gain, would be helpful.”
For individuals who engage in “drunkorexic” behavior, speaking with a professional counselor may help.
“Anyone who may be experiencing these thoughts or behaviors should seek professional help from specialists with experience in both eating and alcohol use issues,” Smolar advised.