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'Drunkorexia' a growing problem as female students favour booze over food

Drinks and dinner? How about drinks or dinner? That's the either-or choice a growing number of college and university students are making. And it appears that the drinks are gaining an edge.

A new University of Missouri study presented recently (but not peer-reviewed yet) has found that more students are cutting calories during the day so they can binge drink at night, according to the Calgary Herald.

In fact, as many as one in five students save their calories for alcohol. The increasingly common phenomenon is being called "drunkorexia."

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And students are remarkably clear about what's going on. They say they're aiming to get drunk faster, they want to save food money for booze and they want to keep their weight down, according to the Herald.

When reached for comment, Valerie Taylor, the chief of psychiatry at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, told the paper that "alcohol abuse and mental-health issues are on the rise in Canada and schools continue to try to address the problem."

"It's ironic. Society has to adapt to our changing environment and these kids are doing the same thing," Taylor said. "Perhaps . . . because students don't have as much money, it's becoming more prevalent."

The findings fly in the face of recent well-meaning university administrators, many of whom made mental health and wellness the focus of this year's frosh weeks.

In May, Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., said it would address a "culture of drinking on campus" after the release of a coroner's report that concluded excessive drinking was a factor in the deaths of two students at the beginning and end of the 2010 fall term, according the the Herald.

"Like other universities, we are wrestling with the societal issue of alcohol consumption and excessive drinking in the university-aged population," the university's dean of student affairs, John Pierce, said in a statement at the time, reports the Herald. "We've been proactively addressing this issue for several years and will continue to do so."

But drunkorexia doesn't fit many of the party-hardy stereotypes of campus drinking, for one major reason: the majority of drunkorexics are women. According to the findings they were three times more likely to have the disorder than men.

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"Women are bombarded with lots of images with what's socially acceptable," Taylor said. "They desperately want to not gain weight.

"If they can only consume so many calories a day . . . that's going to come from alcohol."

In addition to the health issues associated with binge drinking in general, such as organ damage, drunkorexics are at greater risk of becoming sexual assault victims and suffering from substance abuse and more severe eating disorders later in life, Dr. Taylor told the Herald.

Should colleges and universities be adding drunkorexia among female students to their worry lists?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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