Is ‘drunkorexia’ on the rise among college and university students?
Is ‘drunkorexia’ on the rise among college and university students? Source: Shutterstock

College and university can be trying for students, especially when pressures to be perfect take centre stage in an inherently performance-based culture.

From pressures to achieve academic success to stresses that come with the rising cost of living and tuition, family responsibilities and more, it’s easy to understand why numerous reports suggest mental health problems are on the rise among young adults.

Adding to the list is the social pressure to look good, giving rise to fad diets for losing weight. In the same vein, ‘drunkorexia’ is a term coined in the noughties, but its prevalence is still a cause for concern.  

Drunkorexia involves limiting calories from food to save calories for alcohol. This may include forgoing or purging food and excessive exercise.

While not formally recognised by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) or in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM 5), mental health practitioners note that this unhealthy behaviour can negatively affect body and mind.

According to one study of 3,409 students, drunkorexia may affect some 46 percent of college students while another study of 1,184 college students found that eight out of 10 were affected. The problem is said to affect more women than men, while research also suggests that first-year college students are at greater risk.

Drunkorexia affects more women than men. Source: Shutterstock

The scale of the problem is difficult to gauge, especially since drunkorexia is not a clinically recognised condition. But reports from the UK, US and even Australia suggest that the problem may be rampant among learners at multiple study levels.

For example, one Australian study found that drunkorexia is common among Australian university students, with “57.7 percent of study participants admitted to having engaged in drunkorexic behaviours at least 25 percent of the time throughout the past three months. Only 27.2 percent of the students sampled reported no history of drunkorexic behaviours.”

Some contributing factors to drunkorexia may include society’s obsession with thinness, while Psychiatry Advisor notes that financial factors can also play a role, quoting Petros Levounis, MD, MA, Chair, Department of Psychiatry, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School who says some students may find it more affordable to get their calories through cheap alcohol.

While the jury is still out on how widespread the problem is among college and university students, there’s no denying the adverse psychological and physical effects of drunkorexia, making it important for the condition to be a recognised among the mental health fraternity to ensure sufferers can be treated in a timely manner.

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