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Drinking Habits

What Is Drunkorexia? What Is the Danger Behind It?

Published:
March 29, 2024
·
11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
March 29, 2024
·
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
March 29, 2024
·
11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
March 29, 2024
·
11 min read
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Reframe Content Team
March 29, 2024
·
11 min read

Drinking and Dieting Safely

  • Drunkorexia is an eating disorder characterized by severely restricting food intake to “budget” calories for alcohol consumption.

  • The complications of alcohol misuse and anorexia are similar. When they are combined, the complications are more severe.

  • Drunkorexia can be a serious medical condition. Seek professional advice and use the Reframe app to help you on your journey to a healthier relationship with alcohol.

Alcohol and eating often go hand-in-hand. Some of our most beloved gatherings with friends and loved ones center around food, and alcohol is well-associated with social settings. But as dieters know, alcohol is high in calories. For many people, drinking alcohol while trying to lose weight is a losing battle for many reasons. Those unwilling to cut back or stop drinking can start making unhealthy choices to balance their food intake with alcohol consumption, leading to some potentially scary health problems. Let’s dive into “drunkorexia” and talk about some of the ways it can manifest.


What Is Drunkorexia?

A middle-aged man passed out on a bar counter  with alcohol shot glass and bottle

Drunkorexia isn't a medical diagnosis; instead, it’s a colloquial term that describes a range of behaviors associated with eating disorders and alcohol misuse. The -orexia medical term comes from the Greek word orexis,  which means “appetite.” Anorexia nervosa is a well-known eating disorder that involves severe restriction of food intake. It is associated with a range of health problems, such as heart disease, brittle bones, liver disease, kidney disease, and more. Combining anorexia with drinking gives us drunk-orexia. It typically involves patterns of restrictive food intake with a special “calorie account” carved out for alcohol. The reasons behind this behavior can be complex, intertwining with issues of body image, control, and addiction.

Why Do Some Drinkers Not Eat?

Eating disorders and alcoholism are both frequently portrayed as behaviors of control. Of course, that’s not the whole picture. These are complex behaviors, and their origin is different for every individual.

There are multiple reasons why some individuals choose to drink alcohol without eating. These can range from a desire to avoid weight gain to an attempt to feel the effects of alcohol more quickly or intensely. For some, it's a financial issue — prioritizing buying alcohol over food.

Whatever the origin of drunkorexia is, it’s a serious and dangerous behavior. Anorexia and alcohol are dangerous enough on their own, but when mixed together they can have dire health consequences.

What Happens If You Only Drink and Don’t Eat?

The human body relies on a balanced intake of nutrients for all its functions, and alcohol is a poor substitute. Electrolytes are essential nutrients for proper heart and brain function. Alcohol is known to deplete electrolytes, which is part of why we experience hangovers.

Not all calories are created equal, and the calories in alcohol are completely devoid of nutrition — there’s a reason that booze isn’t on the food pyramid. When the body doesn't receive adequate nutrition, the effects of alcohol are amplified, and essential systems are deprived of the resources they need to function properly. This can lead to both short-term impairments and long-term health consequences.

Dangers of Drinking Alcohol and Not Eating

Drunkorexia affects nearly every bodily system. Alcohol misuse alone can cause metabolic disturbances, heart problems, liver damage. I can also worsen anxiety and depression, and interact with medications. Anorexia causes many of the same issues. In fact, the hunger caused by anorexia can impair judgment and lead to poor choices regarding alcohol consumption. Drunkorexia fuels itself, making it a difficult behavior pattern to escape.

When anorexia and alcoholism are left unchecked, the body becomes increasingly damaged. It’s important to recognize drunkorexia and work to break the cycle so the body can start to heal.

Signs of Drunkorexia

Recognizing drunkorexia can be challenging, as it often occurs in private or is hidden by social drinking behaviors. Some signs include noticeable weight loss, comments about saving calories for drinking, or frequently skipping meals to consume alcohol instead. Stomach and digestion issues are common, and some people may use them as an excuse for why they don’t eat proper meals. Women are more likely to experience drunkorexia, but it can happen to anyone at any age. Those experiencing drunkorexia may also binge eat while drinking, or engage in bulimic behaviors such as purging after making poor food decisions while intoxicated.  

Tips for Staying Safe

Tips for Staying Safe

  • Seek professional help. If you're struggling with balancing eating and drinking, consider reaching out to a dietitian or therapist who specializes in eating disorders. There are healthy ways to manage weight without putting yourself in jeopardy.

  • Prioritize balanced meals. Eat regular, balanced meals throughout the day, especially if you plan to consume alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach magnifies many of the most dangerous consequences of alcohol consumption. 

  • Understand portion control. Learn the appropriate serving sizes for different types of alcohol to help manage your intake. A standard serving of regular beer is about 12 ounces, a serving of wine is 5 ounces, and liquor comes in at around 1.5 ounces.

  • Educate yourself and others. Awareness is crucial. Educate yourself about the signs of drunkorexia and share this knowledge within your social circles.

  • Support recovery and well-being. If someone you know shows signs of drunkorexia, encourage them to seek help and support them along their recovery journey. If you yourself are working to overcome drunkorexia, request encouragement from friends and family and cultivate supportive environments.

  • Monitor your habits. Keep a diary of your eating and drinking habits to identify patterns that may indicate drunkorexia. (Tracking foods obsessively is associated with disordered eating, so be honest with yourself about your intentions.)

  • Find alternative coping strategies. Develop healthier coping mechanisms for stress and social pressures that don't involve alcohol or food restriction.


The Bottom Line


Though drunkorexia is not widely recognized in a clinical setting, its impact on health can be profound. There are many resources to help overcome drunkorexia or help loved ones begin healing. With support, awareness, and mindfulness, we can find safer, healthier ways to cope with challenges and foster a healthier relationship with food and alcohol.

Alcohol and eating often go hand-in-hand. Some of our most beloved gatherings with friends and loved ones center around food, and alcohol is well-associated with social settings. But as dieters know, alcohol is high in calories. For many people, drinking alcohol while trying to lose weight is a losing battle for many reasons. Those unwilling to cut back or stop drinking can start making unhealthy choices to balance their food intake with alcohol consumption, leading to some potentially scary health problems. Let’s dive into “drunkorexia” and talk about some of the ways it can manifest.


What Is Drunkorexia?

A middle-aged man passed out on a bar counter  with alcohol shot glass and bottle

Drunkorexia isn't a medical diagnosis; instead, it’s a colloquial term that describes a range of behaviors associated with eating disorders and alcohol misuse. The -orexia medical term comes from the Greek word orexis,  which means “appetite.” Anorexia nervosa is a well-known eating disorder that involves severe restriction of food intake. It is associated with a range of health problems, such as heart disease, brittle bones, liver disease, kidney disease, and more. Combining anorexia with drinking gives us drunk-orexia. It typically involves patterns of restrictive food intake with a special “calorie account” carved out for alcohol. The reasons behind this behavior can be complex, intertwining with issues of body image, control, and addiction.

Why Do Some Drinkers Not Eat?

Eating disorders and alcoholism are both frequently portrayed as behaviors of control. Of course, that’s not the whole picture. These are complex behaviors, and their origin is different for every individual.

There are multiple reasons why some individuals choose to drink alcohol without eating. These can range from a desire to avoid weight gain to an attempt to feel the effects of alcohol more quickly or intensely. For some, it's a financial issue — prioritizing buying alcohol over food.

Whatever the origin of drunkorexia is, it’s a serious and dangerous behavior. Anorexia and alcohol are dangerous enough on their own, but when mixed together they can have dire health consequences.

What Happens If You Only Drink and Don’t Eat?

The human body relies on a balanced intake of nutrients for all its functions, and alcohol is a poor substitute. Electrolytes are essential nutrients for proper heart and brain function. Alcohol is known to deplete electrolytes, which is part of why we experience hangovers.

Not all calories are created equal, and the calories in alcohol are completely devoid of nutrition — there’s a reason that booze isn’t on the food pyramid. When the body doesn't receive adequate nutrition, the effects of alcohol are amplified, and essential systems are deprived of the resources they need to function properly. This can lead to both short-term impairments and long-term health consequences.

Dangers of Drinking Alcohol and Not Eating

Drunkorexia affects nearly every bodily system. Alcohol misuse alone can cause metabolic disturbances, heart problems, liver damage. I can also worsen anxiety and depression, and interact with medications. Anorexia causes many of the same issues. In fact, the hunger caused by anorexia can impair judgment and lead to poor choices regarding alcohol consumption. Drunkorexia fuels itself, making it a difficult behavior pattern to escape.

When anorexia and alcoholism are left unchecked, the body becomes increasingly damaged. It’s important to recognize drunkorexia and work to break the cycle so the body can start to heal.

Signs of Drunkorexia

Recognizing drunkorexia can be challenging, as it often occurs in private or is hidden by social drinking behaviors. Some signs include noticeable weight loss, comments about saving calories for drinking, or frequently skipping meals to consume alcohol instead. Stomach and digestion issues are common, and some people may use them as an excuse for why they don’t eat proper meals. Women are more likely to experience drunkorexia, but it can happen to anyone at any age. Those experiencing drunkorexia may also binge eat while drinking, or engage in bulimic behaviors such as purging after making poor food decisions while intoxicated.  

Tips for Staying Safe

Tips for Staying Safe

  • Seek professional help. If you're struggling with balancing eating and drinking, consider reaching out to a dietitian or therapist who specializes in eating disorders. There are healthy ways to manage weight without putting yourself in jeopardy.

  • Prioritize balanced meals. Eat regular, balanced meals throughout the day, especially if you plan to consume alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach magnifies many of the most dangerous consequences of alcohol consumption. 

  • Understand portion control. Learn the appropriate serving sizes for different types of alcohol to help manage your intake. A standard serving of regular beer is about 12 ounces, a serving of wine is 5 ounces, and liquor comes in at around 1.5 ounces.

  • Educate yourself and others. Awareness is crucial. Educate yourself about the signs of drunkorexia and share this knowledge within your social circles.

  • Support recovery and well-being. If someone you know shows signs of drunkorexia, encourage them to seek help and support them along their recovery journey. If you yourself are working to overcome drunkorexia, request encouragement from friends and family and cultivate supportive environments.

  • Monitor your habits. Keep a diary of your eating and drinking habits to identify patterns that may indicate drunkorexia. (Tracking foods obsessively is associated with disordered eating, so be honest with yourself about your intentions.)

  • Find alternative coping strategies. Develop healthier coping mechanisms for stress and social pressures that don't involve alcohol or food restriction.


The Bottom Line


Though drunkorexia is not widely recognized in a clinical setting, its impact on health can be profound. There are many resources to help overcome drunkorexia or help loved ones begin healing. With support, awareness, and mindfulness, we can find safer, healthier ways to cope with challenges and foster a healthier relationship with food and alcohol.

Summary FAQs


1. What is drunkorexia?


While it manifests itself differently in each individual, the basic principle of drunkorexia is severe restriction of food intake in favor of alcohol consumption.

2. What are the dangers of drunkorexia?

Drunkorexia can cause damage to just about every part of the body: the heart, stomach, brain, gut, kidneys, liver, and metabolism. It also interferes with mental health and medications.

3. Are eating disorders associated with alcoholism?

Yes. Alcohol intake can lead to poor food choices and trap us in a cycle of binging and restricting food. It also exacerbates feelings of anxiety associated with food intake due to its high calorie content.

4. What are the signs of drunkorexia?

Skipping meals, tracking calories in alcohol, losing weight despite heavy alcohol intake, and making frequent comments about body image and food intake suggest this condition.

5. Are there resources to help overcome drunkorexia?

It’s important to seek proper medical help to treat anorexia, including nutritional coaching and mental health counseling. Reframe offers personalized coaching that can help you overcome alcohol misuse and start to build a healthier relationship with what you put in your body. It’s also important to cultivate a supportive environment and seek help from loved ones.

Let Reframe Help You Quit or Cut Back

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet hundreds of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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