Drunkorexia is classed as a food behavioural disorders and, as recent data has revealed, this phenomenon is becoming ever more popular amongst adolescents: it is calculated that approximately 30% of people aged 18-24 suffer from this disorder, which, as the name suggests, is a combination of being drunk and anorexia. A team of American researchers from the University of Missouri -Columbia worked together to scientifically define the characteristics of this disorder, which originates from the United States of America, from university campuses, and from here it came over to Europe, starting from Great Britain and then gradually moving across to other European countries, such as Spain, France and Italy.
Alcohol contains a lot of calories therefore those who do not want to risk putting on weight, but who cannot resist a cocktail or glass of wine, decide to compensate for the calories consumed in alcohol by skipping meals. What is more, since keeping in shape is mainly a female obsession, it is normally girls who fall victim to this disorder: drunkorexia lets them stay thin yet still have fun, that is, drink alcohol. However this is not the only alarming aspect: many anorexic girls, who are obsessed with counting calories, drink a lot of alcohol because it calms down their anxiety and lessens the pain about the way they are living, and it also makes them feel ‘full up’ so it is easy to be sick, a typical characteristic of people who suffer from food behavioural disorders.
Furthermore, alcoholic drinks are made attractive by effective marketing campaigns, and girls in particular are attracted to so called ‘girly drinks’, that is, colourful and sweet drinks with cartoon pictures on the bottle/can, even if they contain alcohol.
Symptoms of drunkorexia are quite easy to recognise, and experts have created a list of these characteristics to make diagnosis easy:
- drunkorexia is a food behavioural disorder, even if it concerns drinking rather than eating, because it affects how a person behaves at the table and his/her relationship with food;
- drunkorexics normally skip meals, preferably dinner, to compensate for the calories they will drink in alcohol until late into the night, and this also satisfies hunger pains;
- drunkorexics lose a lot of weight very quickly and drastically reduce their food intake and they appear very interested in calorie counting, checking labels and packaging, weighing foods and checking publications about the recommended daily intake of foods;
- if the drunkorexic has consumed a lot of alcohol, the symptoms will be obvious and will include confusion, mood swings, sweating and heat flushes;
- the drunkorexic will be spending a lot of money but will not be able to explain where it is all going. Adolescents in particular will ask their families for money, but, in extreme cases, they end up taking it secretly so they have enough money to buy alcohol.
Binge drinking puts the body under a lot of stress and it prevents the formation of new neurons. Physiologically, young people are less protected against alcohol because their enzymes are not completely efficient. Drinking a lot of alcohol damages the liver, reduces the lungs ability to filter any foreign substances inhaled, alters the heart rate and influences artery and vein vasodilatation.
In girls in particular, drinking alcohol at an early age causes behavioural, learning and memory problems and morphological changes to parts of the brain, which is not the case for boys. Moreover, alcohol-hormone interaction delays a girl’s first period and the menstrual cycle, reduces fertility and, in the long run, can increase the risk of getting breast cancer, as well as negatively affecting pregnancy and the health of the foetus. Lastly, girls, who undergo more stress because of hormones, are more at risk of developing emotional disorders, depression and eating disorders.
In summary, the consequences of drunkorexia are devastating and, if it is possible, even worse than the consequences of bulimia and anorexia because, even though these latter two involve consuming less calories to lose weight in a somewhat ‘uniform’ way, with drunkorexia the body is forced to deal with a high intake of calories, but in a totally unbalanced way in the form of alcohol. What is more, these calories come from a substance that, when consumed in large quantities, can be poisonous for the body. Current data provided by experts appear to show that drunkorexics are very likely to become alcoholics later on in life, together with all the consequences related to this addiction.
What to do
As with all food behavioural disorders, the victim must see an expert in the field of addictions. ‘Doing it yourself’ can be counterproductive and family members are almost never able to deal with the situation properly without the help of a specialist. In general, treatment begins with some psychotherapy sessions, which last various lengths of time depending on the seriousness of the disorder. In some cases, the doctor may think pharmaceutical support is necessary.