Binge drinking taken to a new level on college campuses

September 28, 2017 | by Erin Terada, PsyD, CEDS
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Many of us have heard of the “Freshman 15,” which refers to the weight gain some students experience during their first year at college. To avoid weight gain, some college kids are now choosing drinking in place of eating. This dangerous trend is on the rise on college campuses. College kids call it the “liquid diet,” the media is labeling it “drunkorexia.”

Although not an official diagnosis, drunkorexia describes the behavior of students who severely restrict their calorie intake but continue to drink excess amounts of alcohol. This new trend points to an ongoing and predominate problem that affects more than 40 percent of college students — binge drinking.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes binge drinking as a woman drinking four or more drinks or a man drinking five or more drinks — bringing blood alcohol levels to 0.08 percent — all within a couple of hours.

Binge drinking can pose serious health and safety risks, including car crashes, drunk driving arrests, unprotected sex, sexual assaults, alcohol poisoning and injuries. NIAAA statistics reveal that drinking by college students contributes to an estimated 1,825 student deaths, 696,000 assaults by another student who has been drinking, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.

Over the long term, frequent binge drinking can cause chronic health problems like liver and heart disease, and certain cancers. Heavy drinking, along with engaging in compensatory behaviors like restricting food, skipping meals, exercising heavily, taking laxatives or diuretics, binging and purging, is even more dangerous.

Students restrict food to overcompensate for drinking heavily the next day, or to get drunk faster. By “saving” calories for drinking, the effects of alcohol are intensified, which can result in  blackouts, alcohol poisoning or worse.

About 72 percent of women with an alcohol use disorder also having an eating disorder. Also, some students who engage in binge drinking and compensatory behaviors could be using alcohol as a coping mechanism for an underlying mood disorder that needs to be addressed.

As your kids begin college this year, it’s important to have a conversation about the dangers of binge drinking and compensatory behaviors. The NIAAA offers this advice for parents of college kids:

“The first six weeks of freshman year are a vulnerable time for heavy drinking and alcohol-related consequences. Research shows that students who abstain from drinking often do so because their parents discussed alcohol use and its adverse consequences with them. During these crucial early weeks, parents can do a number of things to stay involved.

Parents can help by:

  • Talking with students about the dangers of harmful and underage college drinking — such as the penalties for underage drinking, and how alcohol use can lead to date rape, violence and academic failure.
  • Reaching out periodically and keeping the lines of communication open, while staying alert for possible alcohol-related problems.
  • Reminding students to feel free to reach out to them to share information about their daily activities, and to ask for help if needed.
  • Learning about the school’s alcohol prevention and emergency intervention efforts.
  • Making sure students know signs of alcohol overdose or an alcohol-related problem, and how to help.”

While your son or daughter is away at college, continue to stay actively involved in their life. If you believe your college kid has a problem with alcohol and/or an eating disorder, do not blame them, get help. Binge drinking and compensatory behaviors is a dangerous trend that can have dangerous consequences.

Dual diagnosis treatment programs can provide appropriate care to simulatanously treat an alcohol use disorder and an eating disorder. Learn more and get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Related blogs:

Signs your teen may be abusing alcohol

Know the signs of an eating disorder and when to get help

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