A new buzz word recently emerged in the media to describe a pair of disorders common among young adults — “drunkorexia.” This quiet practice of cutting food calories in anticipation of consuming excessive calories from alcohol has been observed in young women.

While drunkorexia is not an official disorder, there has been a long established connection between substance abuse and eating disorders in youth, according to Sharon Levy, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, medical director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Children’s Hospital Boston.

If a person says, “I had to skip lunch because I’m going to drink tonight,” it’s always worthy of an investigation, said Dr. Levy. “It’s highly concerning when they’re restricting calories and replacing them with alcohol.”

Eating disorders often begin in youth and affect nearly 3% of 13- to 18-year-olds, according to the National Institute on Mental Health. Alcohol abuse is more common among youths who attend college than their non-college peers. About one-third of college students meet the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse, and 6% fit criteria for alcohol dependence, according to a 2002 questionnaire published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.

If parents observe eating and substance abuse disorders in their child’s circle of friends, they may start to shrug off their own child’s behavior. Dr. Levy calls this “norms correction.”

“Just because you’re seeing it in your kid’s friends doesn’t make it normal,” she said.

Because alcohol/substance disorders and eating disorders can be life-threatening, parents should seek an evaluation. “If you have concerns, don’t write them off,” said Dr. Levy.

Stories about celebrities in the media, incidents on college campuses and personal experiences can serve as ice breakers.

“If your child does have an incident at school, that should not be minimized,” said Dr. Levy. Parents can seek assistance from college campuses, which generally offer counseling services and mental health evaluations for students.

The AAP Healthy Children Web site also has resources for parents on eating disorders ( and alcohol (

© 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics. This information may be freely copied and distributed with proper attribution.