Referred to as the “socially acceptable eating disorder” among Millennial females, “drunkorexia” isn’t officially considered a psychiatric disorder, but its mantra is certainly an unhealthy idea: eat less, drink more. Think of an anorexic and alcoholic rolled into one, and you get the basic idea. But why is it so appealing, and what puts Gen Y girls at risk, and what are the results? Let’s take a look.
The Skinny on Drunkorexia
If you’ve never heard of this phenomenon, don’t think it’s not a real issue. According to some studies, up to 1/3 of women between the ages of 18 and 23 have engaged in “drunkorexic behaviors”: skipping a meal to accommodate more alcohol without too many calories. Nearly 1 in 6 young women do that kind of thing routinely, and for some, it becomes the norm.
Men and older women sometimes engage in drunkorexia, too, but young women are by far, those most affected. (When young men do fall prey to drunkorexia, they’re more likely influenced by the financial motivations or the desire to feel the affects of alcohol more quickly, as opposed to helping them manage their weight.)
For those with eating disorders, the tendency toward drunkorexia isn’t a huge leap, and advertisers prey on these vulnerable young women who already have so much to overcome in our weight- and sex-obsessed society. As far as a cause-effect relationship, it does seem that eating disorders predispose young people toward drunkorexia. Those already engaging in disorderly eating habits and vigorous exercise have a greater tendency toward binge drinking: specifically, they’re over 20% more likely to have more than four drinks in a sitting than their non-weight-conscious counterparts. Those engaging in Bulimic behaviors in a single month are over 75% more likely to engage in binge drinking the following month.
The Allure of Drunkorexia
Although the alcohol industry has traditionally targeted men and objectified women in advertising, recent years have brought on a paradigm shift: Young people, especially young women, have been targeted with weight-conscious marketing that preys on anxiety over body image that today’s teen and twenty-something women tend to suffer. Diet alcohol ads offer the “benefits” of drinking without weight gain. And it’s turning out to be a smart campaign, on the part of alcohol companies. Consider the following marketing campaigns:
• Anheuser-Busch advertises for Select 55 beer on the Weight Watchers’ website
• Bacardi calls itself the “zero-carb drinking alternative”
• Beam Inc. offers ready-to-serve SkinnyGirl Cocktails with “low-cal flavors and options,” created by reality star Bethenny Frankel.
Although such advertising might seem misleading, they’re subtle enough to skirt the laws prohibiting alcohol companies from making health-related claims. The health risks, however, are well documented, and many are outraged that it’s still considered more of a “fad diet” than the serious problem and public health crisis that it is. To find out more about the risks involved, check out Part 2.