Drunkorexia is when a person routinely limits the amount they eat before or after they drink alcohol. There are a few different reasons why a person may do this. The first is that alcohol tends to cause a stronger reaction on an empty stomach. So the less you eat, the more you feel intoxicated by alcohol.

A person may be doing this to save money on alcohol. Or, as is common in a lot of cases, it is trying to get around a high alcohol tolerance. Fasting before drinking doesn’t leave any food to try and absorb the alcohol, resulting in a person feeling drunk much quicker. It also commonly results in a much worse hangover.

Another reason for a person to limit food when drinking is weight loss. As with all things, alcohol contains calories. So someone who is trying to watch their weight may avoid eating before a night out so that they can drink alcohol.

Unfortunately, calories from alcohol are not the same as the ones you may get from real food. This is because they don’t contain carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, etc. Rather than being a meal replacement, alcohol is just empty calories that don’t help your body function properly.

Drunkorexia is, of course, a slang term for alcohol and anorexia. Anorexia is an eating disorder where a person has a distorted self-image and severely limits what they eat to lose weight. It can affect anyone, no matter their age or gender, and it can be life-threatening.

Drunkorexia is often a way for people with an eating disorder to justify their behaviour. They know that most alcohol won’t make them put on weight, but it still gives them a reasonable argument about why they skipped lunch and dinner.


Behavioural and Physical Signs of Drunkorexia

If you are worried that someone you know is struggling with this eating disorder, you mustn’t jump to conclusions. Instead, try to identify the signs so that you can take sensible next steps.

While teenagers and university students are amongst the highest risk group for this eating disorder, it doesn’t mean you should ignore the signs in anyone you know.

The signs of drunkorexia include:

  • Lots of exercising – Many people with an eating disorder will take part in excessive exercise to burn off any food they have eaten. This is especially true in men who are often underdiagnosed and seen as healthy for spending so much time in the gym.
  • Avoiding eating – This could be from avoiding eating in front of people or eating their own food rather than something prepared for them. This is all about them controlling the food they do and don’t eat. In many cases, food is moved around the plate but not actually eaten.
  • Fasting before drinking – Avoiding eating before going out drinking is a clear sign of drunkorexia. Especially if it happens regularly.

It is important to remember that an eating disorder doesn’t have a certain look, and it can affect anybody from teenage girls to older men. Eating disorders look different for everyone and can affect people of all shapes and sizes. Looking for the signs, not the stereotypes, is key to knowing if someone is suffering from experiencing drunkorexia.


Risk Factors of Drunkorexia

Drunkorexia doesn’t just happen. It tends to be routed in negative body image thanks to unrealistic beauty standards and societal pressures. People can try to destroy themselves to look like models who are already heavily photoshopped.

No matter your weight, extreme dieting is very dangerous as your body needs around 2000 calories every day just to stay healthy and function normally. By restricting this, your body can’t produce enough energy or repair broken muscles.

Drunkorexia can easily lead to:

  • Slowed cognitive function
  • Loss of fertility
  • Compromised immune system
  • Organ damage
  • Increased risk of alcohol-related harm, including alcohol poisoning

Limiting how much you eat can be dangerous, particularly if it is severely restricted. It can very easily cause long-term disability or even death. But you need to remember that an eating disorder is not a simple choice. It is a mental illness that can just be willed away. It needs real eating disorder treatment to deal with.


Treatment for Alcohol and Eating Disorders

Admitting you need help is often the first and hardest step, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the journey is a piece of cake. It requires dedication and, of course, the right kind of support.

If you or someone you care about needs help with alcoholism or an eating disorder, then the first step should be to talk to your GP. They will be able to start you down the path towards treatment. They will also be able to recommend local treatment options.

These options often include a local support group where you will talk with others struggling like you are. It can often be a very good way to be introduced to the treatment process and the therapy that is needed as part of it.

Therapy is key as it is all about retraining your brain and how it feels about food and alcohol. It also can help you get to the root cause behind why you have this disorder. You may also require some physical treatment, such as an alcohol detox or medical help to get nutrients back into your body.

It is a slow process with small mile goals for you to aim for, so try not to be intimidated by the journey ahead. It is much more manageable than you would think.


Preventing and Overcoming Drunkorexia

One of the best ways to prevent drunkorexia is to change your relationship towards alcohol and body image. Doing your best to maintain your self-esteem and avoiding unrealistic beauty standards can save you a lot of pain.

It is also important not to get sucked into a drinking culture or to give in to peer pressure. Remember, conformity is easy the recovery afterwards is hard.

If you are an educator or you want to provide a positive influence in another’s life, find more than just appearance to compliment. Don’t comment on weight changes, and remember that alcohol should always be done in moderation.

Only through education and changing how we as a society view alcohol and weight loss will we start to make a real change to protect people from developing drunkorexia.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: July 21, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.