“Drunkorexia” and the risks of binge drinking

On a long day, a glass of mojito, appletini or other liquors help Aussies relax after work but the University of South Australia’s latest research said if consumers find themselves binge drinking on more than a few drinks, this could risk their physical and mental health.

The university surveyed 479 female Australian university students aged 18–24 to establish the patterns contributing to “Drunkorexia” – a condition the university calls “damaging and dangerous behaviour where disordered patterns of eating are used to offset negative effects of consuming excess alcohol, including weight gain”.

Of the female university students surveyed 82.7 per cent have shown Drunkorexic behaviours over the past three months. And, over 28 per cent regularly and purposely skipped meals, drank low-calorie or sugar-free alcoholic beverages, purged or exercised after drinking to cut the ingested calories from alcohol at least 25 per cent of the time.

“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,” clinical psychologist and lead UniSA researcher Alycia Powell-Jones said.

“Excess alcohol consumption combined with restrictive and disordered eating patterns is extremely dangerous and can dramatically increase the risk of developing serious physical and psychological consequences.”

Powell-Jones cited illnesses and diseases including hypoglycaemia, liver cirrhosis, nutritional deficits, brain and heart damage; memory lapses, blackouts, depression and cognitive deficits as the consequence of binge drinking. She added that at some point “many of us have drunk too much alcohol” knowing hangovers the next day does not feel good.

The fact that almost a third of young female university students are intentionally cutting back on food so they can offset alcohol calories is of concern to the researchers.

Globally, excessive alcohol drinking is a pressing issue, leading to millions of deaths including young lives. While in Australia, one in six Australians drink alcohol at dangerous levels, which can lead to lifetime risks such as developing a disease or having an injury. Excessive alcohol intake and restrictive eating behaviours to offset calories is a highly toxic cocktail.

Powell-Jones said that identifying the early maladaptive schemas linked to Drunkorexia could help understand the condition more. She said these symptoms can develop in childhood and influence all areas of life. Drunkorexic behaviour are triggered by consuming alcohol and thinness in young adults.

“Not only may it be a coping strategy to manage social anxieties through becoming accepted and fitting in with peer group or cultural expectations, but it also shows a reliance on avoidant coping strategies,” said Powell Jones.

She added how important it is for for clinicians, educators, parents and friends to be aware of what motivates young women to binge drink, including “cultural norms, beliefs that drive self-worth, a sense of belonging, and interpersonal connectedness”.

“By being connected, researchers and clinicians can develop appropriate clinical interventions and support for vulnerable young people within the youth mental health sector,” she concluded.

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