The Interview: Drunkorexia

Giving up dinner for wine is definitely not recommended. Photo by Sarah Gray.

Giving up dinner for wine is definitely not recommended. Photo by Sarah Gray.

This season, Senior Editor Sarah Gray divulged the perils of drunkorexia for the December issue of Link Magazine – on stands now!

Below is the full interview, full of information about drunkorexia and its implications as a serious medical issue. Link Magazine spoke with Daniella Sieukaran, MA Candidate & Developmental Psychology Graduate Student at Simon Fraser University, and member of the Weight and Eating Lab (WEL).

LM: What is drunkorexia, and how did the term come about?

DS: Drunkorexia is a growing phenomenon among young adults, where primarily women, restrict their diets in order to reserve calories for alcohol, which can lead to a dangerous combination of alcohol abuse and severe dieting.

The term “drunkorexia” was only introduced in 2010. The term combines the colloquial term for alcohol intoxication – “drunk” – with the suffix of “anorexia”. In recent years, the media has reported on a surge of eating and weight-related phenomena with catchy nicknames that use the “rexia” suffix, such as pregorexia (extreme dieting while pregnant). These are not official medical or psychiatric diagnoses, yet they may spiral into medical illnesses or mental disorders. Researchers and clinicians in the field of eating disorders actually cringe when we hear the term “drunkorexia” because it is viewed as insensitive to individuals who suffer from alcohol abuse. Although, the media and the public are hanging onto this term. Drunkorexia is not an official, diagnosable eating disorder. It represents sub-threshold, non-clinical symptoms, which can serve as a gateway to an actual eating disorder or alcoholism.

LM: What are the health implications of drunkorexia?

DS: My 2012 study specifically investigated consequences of drunkorexic behaviours: restrained eating was associated with increased unprotected sex after alcohol consumption and increased medical treatments for an alcohol overdose). Additionally, an individual who engages in drunkorexic behaviour may spiral into a full-blown eating disorder or alcoholism.

LM: Is it a new trend?

DS: Drunkorexia does appear to be a growing phenomenon in recent years. Formal research on combined alcohol abuse and severe dieting has dated back since 1996, but the term “drunkorexia” was only introduced in 2010. It appears that drunkorexic behaviour is gaining popularity now as our society is becoming more and more shape- and weight-focused. Young adults who engage in drunkorexic behaviour believe that they are being healthy by staying within an acceptable daily range of caloric intake, but the methods – restricting their diets and using their calories for alcohol – are unhealthy.

LM: Is there a potential increase in this trend at certain times of year?

DS: Research hasn’t explored if drunkorexic behaviour is more common at certain times of the year. But, drawing from research on dieting, it would be expected that drunkorexic behaviour would be more common at times of the year when weight loss is a primary goal for many individuals: January when people are making New Year’s resolutions that are often centered around weight loss, and during the summer months when people are trying to obtain the so-desired, yet elusive “perfect beach body”. Additionally, because drunkorexia is a phenomenon that we are seeing a lot on campuses, it is common throughout the entire school year. When parents are sending their children off to post-secondary campuses, it is important for them to discuss with their children the dangers of combined dieting and alcohol abuse.

LM: How can you combat drunkorexia?

DS: Unfortunately, as drunkorexic behaviour is sub-threshold, often individuals engaging in this behaviour wouldn’t seek treatment, as it’s not a diagnosable mental illness. Although, if an individual engaging in drunkorexic behaviour later develops an eating disorder combined with alcoholism, there are some treatment centers across Canada that specifically treat concurrent disorders, where both the eating disorder and alcoholism are targeted and treated together.

We have to remember that it takes a village to raise a child. A young adult’s family, peers, and their communities have to all be aware of the dangers of drunkorexic behaviour. Increased awareness and education, especially on college and university campuses, is key to preventing drunkorexic behaviour. Young adults know that dieting can be dangerous, and they also know that drinking can be dangerous. But, they may not be thinking about what the combined risks can be. On-campus student counselling centers need to be connecting the dots for students and help them realize what the additive effects of severe dieting and alcohol abuse are.