Drunkorexia: Alcohol Mixes With Eating Disorders

Blogs, friends fuel dangerous trend on college campuses.

ByABC News
October 21, 2010, 10:51 AM

October 21, 2010— -- As college campuses participate in Fat-Talk Free Week – a national campaign to raise awareness of the perils of conversation that regularly includes "I'm so fat" and "You look great! Have you lost weight?" – anorexia and bulimia aren't the only eating disorders on the table.

Over the past few years a new dietary trend has popped up on celebrity chatters and websites and in newspaper articles. The New York Times and Jezebel.com have covered it, and just this week Denver Post columnist Kirsten Browning-Blas reported on it in an article that's being widely reprinted.

The trend is "drunkorexia."

"Abuse counselors are putting the word 'drunkorexia' in line with other eating disorders because the patient uses the same type of methods as anorexia and bulimia- they just mix it with alcohol too," said Dr. Kevin Prince, Alcohol & Other Drug Education Program Coordinator at the University Health Services in Austin, Texas.

Diet blogs and studies describe a drunkorexic as someone who restricts food intake to reserve those calories for alcohol and binge drinking, and note that people are more susceptible to drunkorexia in college. A recent study by the University of Texas School of Public Health and the University of North Texas Health Science Center found that in the past 10 years binge drinking has increased among young men and women.

With fall semester in full swing, universities nationwide are striving to crack down on the behavior. The University of Minnesota is displaying "anti-binge drinking" ads across campus, while administrators at New York University are strictly enforcing "no drinking" dormitory rules more than ever.

They have a tough fight ahead.

Savannah, a 22-year-old University of Texas graduate from Houston, agreed to be interviewed by ABCNews.com as long as her last name was not used.

An alumna of the Greek community, Savannah says it was easy to abstain from food when it came time to party, with the help of a support system made up of friends and sorority sisters.

"I've always watched my weight and skipped meals to account for the high calorie count of alcohol," said Savannah. "It was just something I always did while in college as a normal part of my diet so that I could stay skinny but still go out and drink."

Savannah says she and her friends would trade methods for skipping meals: working out late at night instead of eating, having one medium meal during the day, in some cases throwing up before going out.

Even though the group knew it was wrong, it became part of the young women's weekend routine.

"I do know a lot of people who skip meals to drink, drink heavily, and don't gain any weight. Obviously their success in this way encourages others to try it," Savannah said.

During her four years in college, Savannah attended counseling sessions for anorexia, at her mother's suggestion. (According to the National Eating Disorder Association, as many as 10 million females suffer from some sort of eating disorder. Of those 10 million, 40 percent of newly identified cases of anorexia are in young women.)

"I've done [drunkorexia] for years and I'm still healthy. And I'm skinny," she said. "That's the best of both worlds to me, so it's not likely that I'll stop doing it any time soon."