& Joannie Dobbs Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Help new college students avoid trap of 'drunkorexia'
Recent high school grads heading off to college likely have had several talks with their parents about how to stay safe in their new environment.
But, did those parents talk about “drunkorexia”?
Question: What is drunkorexia?
Answer: Drunkorexia is a popular term for the practice of cutting calories and/or increasing exercise to compensate in advance for calories that someone plans to consume as alcoholic beverages. This is becoming a common practice on college campuses, especially toward the end of the week when students are planning to drink Friday night or over the weekend. Although 21 is the legal drinking age in Hawaii, it is naive to assume opportunities to consume alcohol only occur after reaching legal age.
The main reason for drunkorexia is to avoid any weight gain when planning to consume extra calories from alcohol. This behavior can morph into more serious practices such as self-induced vomiting and the misuse of diuretics, laxatives and diet pills. Although, on the surface, cutting calories prior to drinking may seem reasonable, it actually can be very dangerous.
Q: What are the risks of practicing drunkorexia?
A: This behavior has several major risks. First, think of drunkorexia as a combination of an eating disorder and a substance use (or abuse) disorder. Each of these disorders has its individual risks, damaging both health and academic performance.
Skipping normal meals can affect concentration in classes and studying and impair overall learning. Getting drunk can cause hangovers that make studying difficult or impossible. In addition, both eating disorders and alcohol abuse can become chronic and serious medical problems.
While drinking, the most immediate concern is the risk of drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. When this is done, alcohol is absorbed into the blood much more quickly. This can cause rapid and severe intoxication that can take the unsuspecting drinker by surprise. Just one drink could cause disorientation, impair judgment and even cause someone to pass out. Obviously, the possibility for unintended sexual behavior increases with intoxication.
Even more serious is the life-threatening condition known as alcohol poisoning. Someone suffering from alcohol poisoning loses coordination and consciousness, cannot be aroused by talking to them or even pinching them, has slow or irregular breathing, may repeatedly vomit and will have clammy, pale or bluish skin. A student in this state can soon die. Call 911, and while waiting for help, keep the person lying on their side in case they vomit. This could save a life.
Q: What can students do if they find themselves falling into drunkorexia behavior patterns?
A: Most colleges and universities have support services for students dealing with these types of problems, but the student needs to take the first step to seek help. A good first step is to talk with a mental health or medical professional. Either they can provide help, or they will know where to find it.
So, back to the drunkorexia “talk.” Even just bringing up the term and discussing how people fall into these behaviors can be a good start. Being aware that they may find themselves in a position to protect friends who might succumb to drunkorexia could help to prevent students from making the mistake themselves.
Alan Titchenal, PhD, CNS and Joannie Dobbs, PhD, CNS
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa. Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Services.
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