Eating Disorders and Alcohol: Why Do They Occur Together? Have You Heard of Drunkorexia?

Eating Disorders

and Alcohol: Why

Do They Occur


Kelly Boaz, CNP

In the early 2000s, a new term was coined to describe an eating disorder that didn’t quite fit the symptoms of other eating disorders: drunkorexia. While it’s not in the DSM, it brings to light a component a lot of people don’t think of when they think of eating disorders: alcohol.

For some people with eating disorders, alcohol is 100% off the table. Whether it’s about calorie control, an obsession with “health”, avoiding losing control of the body/mind, or something else entirely, it becomes another form of restriction.

For others, alcohol can take a more prominent role. Since eating disorders are so often about numbing emotions or past traumatic experiences, alcohol presents itself as another option for doing so. This can manifest as “drunkorexia” (restricting food calories in favor of alcoholic ones), or even a full-blown alcohol dependency.

However alcohol shows up for you in your eating disorder, figuring out what place it will play in your recovery is important. As with so many components of recovery, it’s an entirely individual thing.

If you fall into the “off the table” category, it’s important to understand your motivations for removing alcohol from your life. If restricting alcohol is another way you restrict calories or toxins, part of your recovery may be learning to incorporate alcohol into your life. Even though it’s possible to live a perfectly normal life never drinking again, if your only reason for not drinking is fear, that’s something to look at with your team.

For those of you who use alcohol as a way to restrict emotions or memories, it may be hard to find a balanced place with alcohol. For many people, alcohol is the only way they know to cope with PTSD symptoms. In fact, some statistics point to up to 75% of trauma survivors having a problem with alcohol. By working on the trauma, and the emotional reasons behind your drinking, you may find it’s possible to incorporate alcohol into your life in a healthy way, or you may not. Working a 12-step program and/or living a sober life may be the best option for you.

If you’re not sure if drinking is a problem for you in recovery, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Are you drinking with the express intention of getting drunk?

  2. Do you avoid alcohol as a way of controlling your weight?

  3. When you drink, can you stop after one or two?

  4. Do you regularly “need a drink” after stressful or emotional situations?

  5. Are you replacing food with alcohol?

  6. Are you restricting your food to “make room” for alcohol, or so you’ll get a stronger “buzz”?

  7. Do you regularly drink alone?

  8. Do you rely on alcohol as “liquid courage” in social situations?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may need to bring up the subject with your team. Your therapist can help you work through the emotional/trauma components, and your nutritionist or dietician can help you work alcohol into your meal plan, if that’s on the table for you.

If you’re struggling, it’s important to know you’re not alone. Alcohol is a complicated topic for most people, and it only gets more complicated when there’s an eating disorder involved. Reach out for help, whether it’s to a therapist, an eating disorder professional, or a 12-step program (they’re free, and widely available). You deserve healing.

Spacer - green.jpg Kelly Boaz Contributor

Kelly Boaz, CNP is a Toronto-based Holistic Nutritionist (CNP), specializing in eating disorder recovery and food freedom. After winning her 17-year battle with anorexia, Kelly Boaz turned her life’s focus to helping others do the same. She is also a writer and speaker (TEDx, TDSB), raising eating disorder awareness, and helping people heal their relationship with food and their bodies. You can find out more about Kelly, or get in touch via her website.