Despite its glamorous appeal, drunkorexia is not a healthy way to have a good time, even if it saves you some cash.


Despite its glamorous appeal (for those of you who aim to be model thin), drunkorexia is not a healthy way to have a good time, even if it saves you some cash.

Drunkorexia, as defined by Prof. Jacob Palme of Stockholm University, is the combination of “not eating almost any food during the day (anorexia nervosa) with drinking a lot of alcoholic beverages during night-time partying (alcohol abuse)”. However, Kobus du Plooy, a clinical psychologist at UP Student Support, says that drunkorexia is only “a social term and not an official clinical diagnosis”.

Although it is a new term and not a medical diagnosis yet, it has a connection with alcoholism and eating disorders. “[The] trend to be skinny and the fact that drug and alcohol use are socially acceptable are part of the problem,” says Dr Douglas Bunnell, the director of outpatient clinical services for the Renfrew Center in Philadelphia.

Anorexia and drunkorexia are not exactly the same thing. Drunkorexics starve themselves to compensate for the calorie intake found in alcoholic beverages whereas anorexics would avoid drinking alcohol because of its high calorie content. Du Plooy says that drunkorexics use calorie counting to work out how many calories foods and alcoholic drinks contain. They then use this information to steer away from certain foods with a high amount of calories in order to drink alcohol without picking up weight.

According to the Huffington Post, of 1 000 students surveyed by the University of Missouri about drunkorexia, the three most common reasons for engaging in this behaviour include “saving money, controlling […] weight and getting drunk faster”. It was also found that mostly young women at university engage in drunkorexia and that the majority of men that do engage in this behaviour, do so not to control their weight but to save the money they would have spent on food for alcohol instead.

Du Plooy argues that students in general may be most at risk when it comes to drunkorexia, as they “typically wish to maintain a slim thin figure while also wishing to engage in binge drinking”. Furthermore, he says that because this kind of behaviour is often seen as part of university culture, it makes all students, including those at Tuks, susceptible to drunkorexia.

The Milwaukee School of Engineering reports that because women have more body fat and less dehydrogenase (the enzyme that metabolises alcohol) than men, alcohol flows through the bloodstream in large quantities and remains in the blood longer. Thus, women experience worse effects than men which increases their risk for alcohol poisoning and organ damage because their bodies metabolise alcohol much faster.

According to Palme, young women aspire to be sexually attractive. He says that drunkorexic behaviour is a dangerous and unhealthy way to be slim and fit as excessive dieting and alcohol abuse can result in brain damage, Korsakoff’s psychosis (a neurological disorder caused by a lack of vitamin B1) and loss of memory.

When Perdeby spoke to nurses Winnie Sekhukhune and Nonky Letsae from Student Health Services, they said that although drunkorexia is still in its “baby years”, it is a rising problem among students. Sekhukhune and Letsae mentioned that they had two reported cases of drunkorexia in March this year, where students collapsed on campus and confessed to have engaged in drunkorexic behaviour. According to the nurses, when they asked one of the students why she indulges in this behaviour, she didn’t give a reason but admitted that she has been doing it since high school. Sekhukhune and Letsae say that drunkorexia affects a student’s concentration and causes fatigue.

Why aren’t people informed about drunkorexia if some of the earliest drunkorexic behaviours have been reported by publications such as The New York Times in 2008 already? Palme says that “for years this type of behaviour has been observed in the clinical field (outside of university).” However, more research must be done before it can be classified as a medical disorder.

Sekhukhune and Letsae agree that drunkorexia is on the increase around the world and that people should learn more about it. They believe it is important for high school learners and university students to be educated on this matter.

Pressure from society to be skinny seems to be a trend which isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. With this new phenomenon affecting our youth, it is necessary that we pay more attention to this problem so that we can find a solution sooner rather than later.

Photo: Reinhard Nell

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