The prevalence of both alcohol abuse and eating disorders among college students

There are college students who drink excessively, and there are college students who struggle with eating disorders. Both problems pose threats to medical and mental health and may require professional help. Even more so, the negative consequences may multiply when the two concerns co-exist. The combination of having a drinking problem while struggling with an eating disorder can be deadly. When the only calories that are being consumed come from alcohol, college students are bound to face physical, social, and emotional problems. If you know a college student who is abusing alcohol while coping with an eating disorder, it may be time to plan an intervention.

Drunkorexia is a trend

Coined controversially by the media in 2013, the term “drunkoerxia,” describes a relationship between alcohol abuse and disordered eating. It encompasses the behavior of limiting the amount of food eaten prior to consuming alcohol, but it could also include habits like purging meals or taking laxatives before drinking alcohol. In other words, people are saving their calories for liquor, clearing out room in their bellies to guzzle down more beer, or drinking on an empty stomach.

Drunkorexia is a dangerous trend among college women, especially for those who are concerned with their weight. Originally published in the Journal of American College Health, a team of researchers looked at the likelihoods of drunkorexia behavior, examining the first-hand accounts of a group of college students. It turned out that college women were more likely to exhibit drunkorexia versus college men, with the likelihood of drunkorexia increasing due to being a heavy drinker and having issues with weight control.

Indications to address

Pay attention to the warning signs that may point toward the co-current conditions of having an eating disorder and abusing alcohol. College students, especially college women, may develop complex strategies to conceal behaviors associated with an eating disorder, like taking laxatives, binging and purging, skipping meals, or exercising excessively, especially when there is a threat of weight gain from the empty calories of abusing alcohol. Learn about behaviors associated with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and alcohol abuse, and start researching programs that have experience in treating the co-current conditions.

Look for a mental health organization with expertise and experience in successfully treating college students, like Yellowbrick. At Yellowbrick, college students benefit from services that are designed to meet the unique challenges throughout the transition to adulthood. A comprehensive program would address the signs and symptoms of having an eating disorder and an alcohol abuse problem, but should dig deeper to uncover the underlying issues that led to self-destructive behaviors. Unless core struggles are identified and treated, the chance for relapse will remain.

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