While many people view college drinking as the norm, less understood is that how students drink can place them at a higher risk for multiple problems. Drinking on an empty stomach usually means that someone will get drunk faster, given that food helps to absorb alcohol, slowing down alcohol absorption into the bloodstream. A growing trend among college drinkers is called "drunkorexia," a non-medical term that refers to a combination of alcohol with diet-related behaviors such as food restriction, excessive exercising, or bingeing and purging.
"Drunkorexia refers to a complex pattern of drinking-related behaviors that take place before, during, and after a drinking event," explained Dipali V. Rinker, a research assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Houston. "College students appear to engage in these behaviors to increase alcohol effects or reduce alcohol-related calories by engaging in bulimic-type or diet/exercising/calorie/restricted eating behaviors." Rinker will present this research at the 39th Annual Research Society on Alcoholism in New Orleans June 25-29, 2016.
Rinker said there are a number of consequences. "Potential outcomes may include less inhibition that could lead to more negative alcohol-related consequences," she said. "Additionally, restricting caloric intake to those from alcohol could lead to vitamin depletion, as it may keep the individual from eating more nutrient-dense foods."
Rinker said her research is designed to flesh out the definition of drunkorexia as well as identify different types of "drunkorexic" behaviors. "Our information examines the association between these different types of drunkorexic behaviors and other predictors of problem drinking among college students, such as gender differences."
The association between gender and drunkorexia is a complex one, she noted. "While it is clear that college women who drink more are more likely than men to engage in bulimic-type behaviors, and with greater frequency, and to experience more alcohol-related problems as a result of these behaviors, there were no gender differences for engaging in drunkorexia to increase the effects of alcohol or engaging in bulimic-type behaviors to compensate for alcohol-related calories. In some cases, men were more likely to engage in bulimic-type and diet/exercising/calorie-restricted eating behaviors to reduce alcohol-related calories. Further research is needed to more fully understand these differences," she said.
"It is important to realize that, in addition to the amount and/or frequency of alcohol consumption, the manner in which college students drink puts them at greatest risk for experiencing problems," emphasized Rinker. "Students who engage in compensatory dieting/exercise behaviors before, during, or after a drinking event to either increase the effects of alcohol or reduce alcohol calories by either engaging in bulimic-type or extreme dieting, exercise, or restrictive behaviors -- such as skipping meals -- are putting themselves at risk for serious negative consequences related to alcohol use. In addition to reducing risky drinking levels, college students should also make sure to stay well-hydrated and not drink on an empty stomach. Additionally, college students should make sure that they are eating healthily and engaging in healthy exercise behaviors, particularly if they choose to drink."
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