BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: "Drunkorexia"

The latest alcohol-meets-eating-disorder "trend" isn't exactly news.

Oct 20, 2011 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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There’s a new study from the University of Missouri that young people, particularly college-aged women, are skipping meals in favor of drinking their calories in alcohol. Also, not eating means that they’ll get drunk quicker. Apparently it’s becoming an epidemic:

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Uh-huh. When have college girls not starved themselves and partied all of the time?

Also, the New York Times was all over this “trend” in 2008 with their funnily-titled article “Starving Themselves, Cocktail in Hand” (which ran in the Fashion & Style section):

The latest entry in the lexicon of food-related ills is drunkorexia, shorthand for a disturbing blend of behaviors: self-imposed starvation or bingeing and purging, combined with alcohol abuse.

Drunkorexia is not an official medical term. But it hints at a troubling phenomenon in addiction and eating disorders. Among those who are described as drunkorexics are college-age binge drinkers, typically women, who starve all day to offset the calories in the alcohol they consume. The term is also associated with serious eating disorders, particularly bulimia, which often involve behavior like bingeing on food — and alcohol — and then purging.

Anorexics, because they severely restrict their calorie intake, tend to avoid alcohol. But some drink to calm down before eating or to ease the anxiety of having indulged in a meal. Others consume alcohol as their only sustenance. Still others use drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine to suppress their appetites.

“There are women who are afraid to put a grape in their mouth but have no problem drinking a beer,” said Douglas Bunnell, the director of outpatient clinical services for the Renfrew Center, based in Philadelphia.

The article from 2008 goes on to list other “trending” eating disorders:

Manorexia is the male version of anorexia. Orthorexia is an obsession with what is perceived as healthy food — eliminating fats and preservatives, for example. But people with this condition can dangerously deprive themselves of needed nutrients.

Diabulimia refers to diabetics who avoid taking insulin, which can cause weight gain, in order to control their weight. Despite the name, the disorder does not typically involve purging. 

And so on.

But “drunkorexia” is definitely the buzzword the media is trying to make happen again right now. But, like I said, it's so not new. In college and beyond, I was definitely "drunkorexic"! I never ate and I partied constantly.

I went to Eugene Lang, which is a tiny undergraduate division of New School University here in downtown New York. And by “went,” I mean I occasionally showed up blurry-eyed to class in a Juicy Couture sweatsuit (it was like 2002 – we all did).

I was a nonfiction writing major and I turned in the same pieces over and over again to all my different professors and never got caught. And I would only take afternoon and night classes, because I went out so much. In between all this, I was interning at magazines like Teen Vogue and Nylon and Glamour, always in the beauty departments. All I cared about was nightlife and fashion magazines.

And, like I said, I never ate and I drank a LOT! It was a time in New York where all of the clubs had bottle service and it was all about the 20-year old girl. You just sat down somewhere and someone would hand you a glass of champagne and offer you coke. I went to clubs like Bungalow 8, Suite 16, Butter, Veruka and Pangea. I remember that I was really into vodka-pineapples for a while, which is gross.

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There didn’t seem to be any consequences then, and I guess there weren’t for a long time. I graduated college and got magazine jobs and kept partying and partying. I stayed skinny and if I wasn’t happy, at least I was active and felt glamorous when I was out and drunk and coked up and on all my Adderall and everything.

But it did all catch up with me when I decided to stop binge drinking a few years ago, and thus stopped going out. I was trying to be “normal” and “responsible” all of a sudden. I had spent all of my late teens and the first seven years of my 20s trashed in chic places, looking very skinny and running around with graffiti writers and other “party” people.

Without that identity – which I couldn’t sustain; no one can – I felt like a complete nothing. And I couldn’t make healthy friends! All that time I’d spent in the club or hungover during the day, I realized, everyone else around me had been growing up and having relationships and furnishing their apartments and building their credit scores. I didn’t even own a frying pan. I still don’t.

So when I quit drinking, I got very depressed and lonely and panicky and started using drugs alone at home a lot. And I was still very obsessed with being skinny. You can’t spend all your formative years being “drunkorexic” or whatever and expect to come out of it all ready for grown-up life. Or sobriety. Or even a little bit of weight gain.

I am still working on accepting all of these things. The key is self-esteem -- just, like, liking yourself. I am working on that, too.

BUT. I believe that young women can grow out of the horrible partying-and-starving-themselves cycles. Hopefully if you know someone who sounds like me, she will. I’ve seen it happen to tons of women, and they are all working at fashion magazines and engaged now [OK, Cat, championing skinniness as chic is one thing, but equating being engaged with some state of mental health GOES AGAINST ALL MY BELIEFS! Just kidding, I am against both of those things. Carry on. ] and all good.

Alternately, one of my favorite friends from the Bungalow days is a full-blown junkie now, so you never know.

Anyway, that’s my not-that-uplifting story. Drunkorexia: Did it happen to you?

Follow Cat on Twitter at @cat_marnell.