Category: Eating Disorders
The phenomenon often referred to as “drunkorexia,” which includes compensatory behaviors that are performed in preparation for, or in response to, alcohol consumption, is a prevalent risky health behavior. Research estimates that 39% of college students significantly restrict caloric intake on days they intend to consume alcohol for weight control purposes and/or to amplify the effects of alcohol. Other compensatory behaviors performed in response to alcohol consumption can include vomiting, laxative use, and exercise. Despite significant health consequences, such as increased risk for intoxication, engagement in risky violent and sexual behaviors, and memory loss, little is known regarding alcohol-related compensatory behaviors. Specifically, research on gender differences is inconclusive and the psychological mechanisms underlying these behaviors are unknown. One psychological mechanism that may contribute to these problematic behaviors is deficits in emotion regulation (ER), as emotion dysregulation is a transdiagnostic risk factor implicated in both disordered eating and problematic alcohol use. Literature suggests women report greater ER difficulties than men, including less access to adaptive ER strategies and drinking alcohol in response to negative emotions. Women also exhibit higher rates of disordered eating than men.
As such, the current study hypothesized that 1) females would endorse greater alcohol- related compensatory behaviors than men 2) there would be significant relationships between non-acceptance of emotions and lack of access to effective ER strategies and alcohol-related compensatory behaviors and 3) the relationship between ER difficulties and alcohol-related compensatory behaviors would be stronger for women than men. Participants were undergraduate students (132 males and 137 females) who completed a series of online questionnaires, including the Compensatory Eating and Behaviors in Response to Alcohol Consumption Scale (CEBRACS) and the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS). Contrary to hypotheses, no gender differences were found on the CEBRACS alcohol effects, diet and exercise, and restriction subscales or on the total score. While ER deficits were positively related to the CEBRACS subscale and total scores, gender did not moderate the relationship between ER and alcohol-related compensatory behaviors.
A lack of gender differences may be due to the specific combination of behaviors that define “drunkorexia,” as disordered eating is more common in females, yet problematic alcohol use is more prevalent in males. Future research should investigate why men and women engage in alcohol-related compensatory behaviors at similar rates, as well as additional psychological mechanisms that may underlie these harmful behaviors.
Sarah Horvath– Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
Shelby Martin– Graduate Student, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
Ryan Shorey– Assistant Professor, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
Sarah Racine– Assistant Professor, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio