A new study finds that a staggering 87.2 percent of female Australian university students have engaged in “Drunkorexia,” a dangerous behavior where disordered patterns of eating are used to offset negative effects of drinking too much alcohol, such as gaining weight.
Researchers at the University of South Australia found that 28 percent of the students were regularly and purposely skipping meals, consuming low-calorie or sugar-free alcoholic beverages, purging, or exercising after drinking to help reduce ingested calories from alcohol, at least 25 percent of the time.
Clinical psychologist and lead researcher Alycia Powell-Jones said the prevalence of Drunkorexic behaviors among Australian female university students is concerning.
“Due to their age and stage of development, young adults are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, which can include drinking excess alcohol,” 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, including hypoglycemia, liver cirrhosis, nutritional deficits, brain and heart damage, memory lapses, blackouts, depression, and cognitive deficits.”
“Certainly, many of us have drunk too much alcohol at some point in time, and we know just by how we feel the next day, that this is not good for us, but when nearly a third of young female uni students are intentionally cutting back on food purely to offset alcohol calories, it’s a serious health concern,” she continued.
In Australia, one in six people consume alcohol at dangerous levels, placing them at lifetime risk of an alcohol-related disease or injury, she noted. The combination of excessive alcohol intake with restrictive eating behaviors to offset calories can result in a highly toxic cocktail for this population, she added.
For the study researchers examined the drinking patterns of 479 female Australian university students between the ages of 18 and 24.
The study was undertaken in two stages. The first measured the prevalence of self-reported, compensative and restrictive activities in relation to alcohol consumption.
The second stage identified participants’ Early Maladaptive Schemes (EMS) — or thought patterns — finding that the subset EMS most predictive of Drunkorexia were insufficient self-control, emotional deprivation, and social isolation.
According to Powell-Jones, identifying the early maladaptive schemas linked to Drunkorexia is key to understanding the harmful condition.
These are deeply held and pervasive themes that can develop in childhood and influence all areas of life, often in dysfunctional ways, she said. Early maladaptive schemas can also be influenced by cultural and social norms.
Drunkorexic behavior appears to be motivated by two key social norms for young adults — drinking alcohol and thinness.
“This study has provided preliminary insight into better understanding why young female adults make these decisions to engage in Drunkorexic behaviors,” Powell-Jones said. “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.
“It is important that clinicians, educators, parents and friends are aware of the factors that motivate young women to engage in this harmful and dangerous behavior, including cultural norms, beliefs that drive self-worth, a sense of belonging, and interpersonal connectedness,” she concluded. “By being connected, researchers and clinicians can develop appropriate clinical interventions and support for vulnerable young people within the youth mental health sector.”
Source: University of South Australia