College students receiving treatment at the Eating Disorder Center of Denver have admitted they often numb their pain by drinking alcohol, said Dr. Tamara Pryor, the center’s clinical director.
Pryor said one student drinks because of her “party girl” reputation at school — she doesn’t want to disappoint her sorority sisters.
Another student spoke of blacking out in a bar bathroom after it closed and she was later found by the cleaning person.
“Anything could have happened to her,” Pryor said. “Others describe the blackouts. Drinking such a significant amount of alcohol in such a short period of time and then going into blackouts.”
Mixing binge drinking with an eating disorder can be very dangerous, Pryor said.
“Drunkorexia” is not an official medical term, but it has become increasingly prevalent on college campuses, Pryor said.
Women either starve all day to offset the caloric intake of consuming large amounts of alcohol, or they binge and purge on food and/or alcohol, Pryor said.
Dr. Felicia Greher, eating disorder coordinator at the University of Colorado’s Counseling and Psychological Services, and Dr. Alisa Shanks, eating disorder clinician at CU’s Wardenburg Health Center, said they have seen this trend on the Boulder campus.
“It’s extremely dangerous,” Greher said. “There certainly is drinking that happens on college campuses. I definitely have seen students who have presented with that pattern … it certainly is out there.”
Greher and Shanks said CU has a high percentage of eating disorders. A 2007 study by the National College Health Assessment showed CU’s numbers higher than the national average.
“Don’t restrict calories in an effort to make space for alcohol calories,” Shanks advised. “You need calories to nourish you, and alcohol doesn’t actually have nourishing calories.”
Pryor said many of her patients with anorexia nervosa are so anxious and nervous about eating, that drinking alcohol blunts the anxiety of eating a meal.
Patients with bulimia nervosa have a hard time regulating what goes into their bodies, so they consume alcohol like they consume food, Pryor said — they can’t stop, then they purge.
Pryor said the culture surrounding women and drinking has changed drastically in the past 20 years.
“Alcohol has become the No. 1 health concern facing college campuses,” Pryor said. “Then, of course, there’s been an increased prevalence of eating disorders on college campuses over the last 10 years. We are finding a higher and higher coexisting problem of binge drinking disorder with eating disorders.
“We see both disorders going hand in hand.”