Drunkorexia: the dangerous vernacular

In recent years it has become popular to add ‘orexia’ to the end of colloquial words creating a made-up terminology for serious disordered eating issues. Some of these include ‘bigorexia’ and ‘drunkorexia’. In light of this week being Eating Disorder Awareness week, I wanted to delve into what these mental health illnesses actually are, and why colloquialising such conditions by tacking this suffix onto the end of a word is an extremely harmful habit we have gotten into.

Both ‘drunkorexia’ and ‘bigorexia’ describe forms of eating disorders: with ‘drunkorexia’ it is self-starvation prior to binge-drinking in order to either get drunk faster, or – the more likely motive – to reduce calorie intake without jeopardising a night out. Obviously disordered eating in any form is unhealthy and dangerous, but involving alcohol makes this a particularly deadly one as not only do you have the potential side-effects of malnutrition, but also the threat of alcohol-related injuries or health related problems. ‘Bigorexia’, sometimes known as ‘reverse anorexia’ – another unhelpful nickname – is a form of orthorexia and body dysmorphia whereby the person exercises excessively to achieve a bulked-out physique but is never satisfied with their body no matter how much physical exercise they do.

‘Bigorexia’ and ‘drunkorexia’ are mental health illnesses that can lead to serious bodily damage, and describing them in these colloquial ways rather than as body dysmorphia, orthorexia or disordered eating is dangerous both for people experiencing said illnesses and for people with other eating disorders. The informal nature of these terms invites people to stop taking these mental health problems seriously. It leads to people joking about ‘drunkorexia’ and ‘bigorexia’ as though they are not real health threats prominent in our society today; with these colloquialisms it is easy to say ‘oh, it’s just her being a drunkorexic, it’s not a big deal’ rather than considering whether someone has a much deeper-rooted issue. We must stop normalising eating disorders. They are not a fad and they are not a phase. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric issue. The eating disorder charity Beat says that 20% of sufferers will die prematurely due to complications from it. Bulimia does not just affect the stomach – it has other repercussions such as severe dehydration, gum disease and even kidney failure. By using vernacular language to describe potentially deadly mental health problems, we are playing with fire and it must stop.

‘Bigorexia’ illustrates another problem: the way society tells men they must not experience pain. If you Google search ‘bigorexia’, any image that comes up is of a man with a body-builder-esque physique looking sadly into a mirror. Eating disorders can affect anyone of any shape, ethnicity, race, and gender but what these images portray is that only men can suffer with this form of body dysmorphia and, that even when for once men are ‘allowed’ to experience a mental health illness, it must be masculinised and it must be downplayed with vernacular language. 11% of eating disorder sufferers in the UK are male, but we are fed the narrative that eating disorders are only for women. Where is the truth in that?

This new terminology is indicative of a bigger problem within modern culture – the misuse of mental health terms. This misuse spans much broader than just being in the context of eating disorders. It can be anything from labelling someone as a ‘schizo’ to describing someone’s actions as ‘retarded’. And to anyone muttering that this is political correctness gone mad, I invite you to question just why using derogatory terms is something so important to you.

I firmly believe that if we gave mental health the correct terminology and used it in the correct contexts, we would be able to begin to alleviate the stigma surrounding these illnesses and encourage people to seek support. However, reducing the stigma and normalising are not one and the same. We don’t need to normalise mental health by misdiagnosing people with vernacular terms. We need to recognise these mental health illnesses for what they are and, rather than run from them, offer sufferers our aid.

Eve Jackson

Photo credit: https://news.sky.com/story/eating-disorder-admissions-in-england-double-in-six-years-11248431