Researcher discovers alarming frequency of ‘drunkorexia’
Research from a UH psychology professor has led to the discovery of a new trend in college students’ drinking habits.
Dipali Rinker, research assistant professor of psychology, studied the risky consumptive habits of college students. She found that “drunkorexia,” defined as a non-medical term that refers to food restriction, excessive exercising, or binging and purging associated with alcohol use, is used as a way to get drunk faster.
“We know that over and above the frequency and amount that college students drink, the manner in which they drink puts them at higher risk for experiencing alcohol-related problems than other populations,” Rinker said.
Rinker’s findings concluded that college athletes were more likely to engage in “drunkorexic” behaviors. Although male students were more susceptible, Dipali also discovered that women who engaged in bulimic-type behaviors drank more than men who similarly exhibited “drunkorexia.”
“A large predictor of this type of behavior, especially among college students, is the fact that it is considered a very normative and prevalent behavior among average college students,” Rinker said.
The study was based on a survey of 1,184 individuals primarily from Texas colleges and universities. Participants had to be between the ages of 18 and 26, and report at least one heavy drinking episode in the previous 30 days to the study.
Of the total participants, 481 students were from UH.
Fine arts sophomore and sorority member Annie Smith (alias to protect privacy) didn’t know college students intentionally stopped eating to get drunker faster until she witnessed her friends do just that.
Smith considers social media the principal catalyst for this type of behavior.
“We’re constantly being force-fed images of skinny girls in bikinis with bottles of vodka in each hand,” Smith said. “As if having to be a size four or below to be deemed skinny wasn’t enough, we also have to be able to hold copious amounts of liquor and stay out until two in the morning or risk being labeled a ‘grandma.’”
Houston-based eating disorder specialist and dietitian Amanda Holben agrees that “drunkorexia” is definitely something to be aware of on college campuses.
“I often see college students who engage in patterns of calorie restriction during the day to ‘prepare’ for the calories they will ingest by going out at night,” Holben said. “The obvious concern is that the individual is more susceptible to the adverse reactions to alcohol due to drinking on an empty stomach.”
In some cases, Holben said an individual may self-induce vomiting after drinking to void any calories they consumed from drinking. She also sees frequent instances of “cross-addiction” in which an individual utilizes both eating disorders and alcohol consumption to lessen emotional distress or be “numbed.”
An intervention may be a successful way to address individuals who are engaging in “drunkorexia,” Rinker said. She encourages interventions that include “normative feedback” for each individual so they can understand the risks of their behavior.
“The way it works is that we present back to the student how many drinks they drink, how many they think the average college student drinks, which is typically much higher than their own drinking, and then report how much the actual college student drinks,” Rinker said. “Seeing this discrepancy does work to reduce risky drinking levels.”
To Smith, measures to prevent risky drinking behavior seem to be lacking in college communities.
“We need to encourage students to put themselves first and teach them how to do so,” Smith said. “Too many college students have resulted to extremes because they simply don’t know better.”