Drunkorexia: A third of female uni students believed to save calories for binge drinking episodes

May 19, 2020

Researchers at the University of South Australia (UniSA) have found that a majority of female Australian university students – out of nearly 480 university students aged 18-24 years – had engaged in Drunkorexic behaviours over the past three months. “Drunkorexia” involves damaging and disordered patterns of eating to offset the negative effects of consuming excess alcohol, such as gaining weight.

Moreover, at least 28% of these female university students, who had exhibited Drunkorexic behaviours, were regularly and purposely skipping meals, consuming low-calorie or sugar-free alcoholic beverages, and purging or exercising after drinking to help reduce ingested calories from alcohol, for about 25% of the time.

UniSA clinical psychologist Alycia Powell-Jones said the prevalence of such behaviours among Australian students was deeply concerning: “Due to their age and stage of development, young adults are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviours, which can include drinking excess alcohol.

“[…] combined with restrictive and disordered eating patterns it is extremely dangerous and can dramatically increase the risk of developing serious physical and psychological consequences, including nutritional deficits, brain and heart damage, memory lapses, blackouts, depression and cognitive deficits.”

Harmful alcohol consumption is a global issue:in Australia, one in six people consume alcohol at dangerous levels, placing them at lifetime risk of an alcohol-related disease or injury. The combination of excessive alcohol intake with restrictive eating behaviours to offset calories will likely exacerbate that risk.

From the recent study, Drunkorexic behaviour appears to be motivated by two key social norms for young adults – consuming alcohol and thinness.

“It may be a coping strategy to manage social anxieties through becoming accepted and fitting in with peer group(s) or cultural expectations,” Powell-Jones explained.

Powell-Jones said identifying the “early maladaptive schemas” or thought patterns linked to Drunkorexia will help with understanding the harmful condition. As investigated in the study, Early Maladaptive Schemes (EMS)are “deeply held and pervasive themes regarding oneself and one’s relationship with others, that develops in childhood and can later influence all areas of life, often in dysfunctional ways. Early maladaptive schemas can also be influenced by cultural and social norms.”

But by knowing the EMS, “researchers and clinicians can develop appropriate clinical interventions and support for vulnerable young people within the youth mental health sector,” Powell-Jones said.


Category: Education, Features

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