It’s a fact that college students drink, and often in large quantities. Students are also quite familiar with the phenomenon of the “freshman 15,” the inevitable weight gain that comes along with the frequent consumption of alcohol. Studies show that some students avoid food altogether when they plan to drink later on. Their motives are two-fold; to manage weight gain associated with a large number of calories consumed in a night of drinking and to achieve a greater buzz from drinking on an empty stomach.
Dr. Dipali Rinker, a research assistant professor at the University of Houston, explains drunkorexia, a colloquial term describing diet-related behaviors associated with alcohol use. More often than you’d think, students make the risky decision to eliminate food calories and replace them alcohol calories. The degree of drunkorexia varies. One student might simply eat less or skip one meal, while another may avoid food for an entire day, but both do so because they plan to go out and drink later on.
The dangers of drunkorexia are far-reaching. Dr. Petros Levounis, Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, says the frequent practice can lead to vitamin and essential amino acid deficiencies, resulting in malnutrition. He also adds that students can be tricked into thinking there’s not much difference between alcohol and food calories, but this is not true. Students engaging in this behavior put their bodies at risk and can develop significant health problems over time. In fact, the consistent practice will likely result in the very weight gain that caused the behavior in the first place, concludes Dr. Levounis.
In addition, Joy Stephenson-Laws, founder of the non-profit Proactive Health Labs, explains it’s easy to get too drunk when drinking on an empty stomach. The high-risk behavior of drunkorexia often goes hand-in-hand with other high-risk behavior, such as blacking out and skipping class. One college, the University of Texas-Austin, has taken a more active approach. William Mupo, Health Promotion Coordinator, says Texas-Austin promotes the fun aspects of drinking in moderation, rather than simply condemning all drinking. The school also informs students they should eat healthy fats and proteins during a night of drinking, which helps maintain a lower blood alcohol level. Most importantly, they debunk the myth that all students drink to excess, which studies have shown is greatly exaggerated.
- Dr. Dipali Rinker, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Houston
- Joy Stephenson-Laws, founder of Proactive Health Labs
- Dr. Petros Levounis, Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
- William Mupo, Health Promotion Coordinator at University of Texas-Austin