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'Drunkorexia: When Alcoholism Meets Eating Disorders'

24/06/2014 11:13 BST | Updated 23/08/2014 10:59 BST

Have you regularly skipped meals in replacement of a glass of wine? Or perhaps starve yourself with cocktail in hand? Finding yourself 'forgetting' to eat dinner in favour of an after-work pint of two... or ten? Well, if this sounds all too familiar you are not alone. In recent years, eating disorders with a co-morbidity with alcoholism, is understood to be a growing and all too common trend.

The term 'Drunkorexia' is relatively new, but the condition is not. Drunkorexia is a combination of alcoholism and anorexia or bulimia. Usually, a person suffering from drunkorexia will deprive himself or herself of food during the day, in an attempt to keep calories under control when he or she goes drinking later. Although more men engage in binge drinking, the condition affects men and women jointly.

Generally, there is a misconception that by reducing the number of food calories during the day, weight gain will balance out when a person binge drinks later. Also, those who wish to become intoxicated quickly avoid food in order to allow for more rapid absorption of alcohol from the digestive system.

Finally, individuals think that alcohol will provide them with calories to replace the ones they avoided earlier in the day. However, alcohol has no nutritional value, and the individuals are consuming what are considered 'empty calories.'

Drunkeria is the latest 'orexia's' to be reported in the media in recent times alongside 'manorexia' and 'pregorexia.' It cannot be disputed that 'drunkorexia' - for the lack of a better name - is possibly worthy of it's own recognition for better understanding and increased awareness.

I know few self-confessed 'drunkorexics' but can think of many people who could fit the bill. Students in-particular could be at high risk skipping meals to cut down on calories so they can binge drink at night. Research carried out by the University of Missouri in the United States revealed as many as one in five students were following the worrying trend as reported on Huffington Post.

The 1,000 students questioned in the study said their reasons for prioritising drink over eating included saving money, controlling their weight and getting drunk faster.

"It may be that the sufferer has lack of funds for a night out and the choice between food and alcohol is to be made. The sufferer will usually opt for alcohol in place of food," says Paul Donald of the Men and Boys Eating and Exercise Disorders Service Scotland (MBEEDS) "Pasta or a case of beer? A healthy meal or glass of wine? These are the kind of questions a drunkorexic considers come Friday night. They'll normally opt for the liquid option.", he added.

Victoria Osborne, assistant professor of social work and public health at the university, examined the relationship between alcohol misuse and eating disorders. More than 15 per cent of those surveyed said they restricted their calorie intake to "save them" for drinking, backing up Donald's view-points.

According to Osborne, drunkorexia could also have dangerous cognitive, behavioural and physical consequences, as well as putting people at risk for developing more serious eating disorders and addiction problems.

"Apart from each other, depriving the brain of adequate nutrition and consuming large amounts of alcohol can be dangerous," she said. "Together, they can cause short- and long-term cognitive problems including difficulty concentrating, studying and making decisions."

Despite the growing trend, there is no specific treatment for 'drunkorexia' as it is not a medically diagnosable disorder. It is, in fact, a combination of two different disorders that are treated separately. What's more their could be an under-lying condition that fuels both the eating disorder and alcoholism.

In order to better understand eating disorders, it's important that we recognise and treat mental illnesses in all it forms as cross-wired. Co-morbidities are not unusual and becoming more common - 'drunkorexia' being just one of the many conditions that fail to fit the rigidity of 'diagnostic criteria.'

After-all, the broad spectrum of eating disorders is varied and complex and cannot continue to be simplified to the limited number of diagnoseable categories as it stands...