College Students Are Getting Drunker, Faster Using This Scary Trend

A growing number of college students are drinking their meals instead of eating them, a new University of Houston study finds.

The popular campus trend, dubbed "drunkorexia," involves skipping meals, purging, or excessively exercising prior to consuming alcohol in order to reach a buzz faster while taking in fewer calories, Times Higher Education reports.

Drunkorexia isn't a new thing; it's just more widespread than previously thought.

Here's what the study found.

Researchers surveyed 1,184 college students who had reported having drank heavily at least once in the last month — this means five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women. Eight in 10 students were found to have engaged in one or more drunkorexic behaviors, according to Dipali Rinker, lead author of the study and a research assistant professor at the University Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health. Those behaviors include everything from consuming only low-calorie beers to forgoing an entire day's worth of meals.

"In general, what we know about college drinking behavior is that it's problematic drinking," Rinker told ATTN:. "It's very much connected to the culture and expectations of what we do when we're in college."

A 2014 study appearing in the Journal of American College Health found drunkorexic behavior to be more common among female college students. However, Rinker's study found female and male students engaged in it equally — although drunkorexia was more likely to manifest as bulimic-type behavior in women.

Researchers also found drunkorexia to be more prominent among members of fraternities and sororities, students residing in dorms, and college athletes, who often are under pressure to manage their weight, Rinker said. These groups often feel a greater need to conform to peer norms — "the idea that you want to fit in in a way that's expected by the majority" — she noted.

"We know that the transition into college is a very high-risk time in general," Rinker noted.

Stress could play a role, too. Students may engage in binge drinking or disordered eating simply to cope with a changing environment.

"I think the great stress people are feeling is related to finances and academics and social pressure to look a certain way or act a certain way," Dr. Marcia Morris, a psychiatrist at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center who's been treating college students for the last two decades, told ATTN:. "It's driving some of the increase in the anxiety, depression, and the eating disorders, and substance disorders we're starting to see."

About 1,825 college students die as a result of unintentional alcohol-related injuries every year, but this is rarely the picture that's painted by TV shows and movies targeting teen and young adult audiences. Neither Rinker nor Morris has specifically studied the effect of media on college drinking habits, but both agree it probably is a factor.

"I do think if people see movies where there aren't negative consequences of drinking, it could have an influence to make students feel more safe when they drink excessively," Morris said.

Likewise, the media's tendency to idolize celebrities with abnormally thin physiques, which several studies have shown contributes to negative body image among both women and men, may contribute to the eating disorder element of drunkorexia.

But Rinker does provide a glimmer of hope.

"Most college students, [though] not all, do mature out of this 'Animal House'-type behavior."