Fad Diets and Alcohol Abuse in Young Adults

Young adults face many unrealistic expectations in today’s world.  The drinking culture, which is prevalent on most college campuses as well as among young people in general, is physically and mentally demanding.  It seems that every young person is expected to incorporate alcohol into every social function, date, and weekend without developing adverse effects such as addiction. Additionally, there is a great deal of pressure on young women in particular to maintain an extremely slender and specifically proportioned body-type that is not only unattainable for a large portion of the population, but also not feasible with heavy alcohol use.  These two conflicting pressures can create dangerous circumstances for young people who are drinking heavily while trying to lose weight. 

Fad Diets

It seems that at least once a year a new dieting craze takes hold of the country, and at least five people you know will end up participating.  These diets often include eliminating entire food groups or going for significant periods of time without eating at all. What they all seem to lack, however, is balance.  Fad dieting can lead to major nutritional issues that can have serious effects on the body and mind. In addition to physical symptoms such as fatigue and light-headedness, failing to meet nutritional needs can cause problems with focus and lower academic performance. Despite evidence against the value of these dieting trends, one study conducted on a university campus found that at least one in three students had tried a fad diet.  

College is a complex environment when it comes to weight gain, diets, and body image.  Many students feel pressured to look a certain way by the media, as well as peers. Along with the added pressure to stay thin, college brings several lifestyle variables that often result in weight gain, such as excess stress, a busy schedule, and less access to the nutritious meals once provided at home.  When a student doesn’t have very much money or time to spare, a fad diet that requires eating very little and promises weight loss without exercise can seem very appealing. 

Alcohol Use and Weight Gain

Alcohol packs on pounds in several ways, especially for those that drink in excess.  In college, many students participate in binge drinking, which means five or more drinks for a man and four or more for a woman.  Depending on the type of drink, binge drinking can easily add nine hundred to a thousand calories to any given day. Over time, these calories will quickly convert into excess weight.  Even if food is consumed with alcohol, alcohol is converted into energy by the body before food. This means that carbohydrates and fats found in food that should be converted into energy by the body may linger around long enough to become adipose tissue, also known as fat.  Additionally, alcohol can cause you to eat more than you normally would, both while you are drinking and when you are hungover the next day. Hangovers can make you crave greasy and starchy foods to settle your stomach, all of which contribute to weight gain. 

Dieting While Drinking

College life may lead to heavy alcohol use for some students due to social pressure and a desire to cope with academic stress.  At the same time, the pressure to stay thin can cause young adults to participate in risky dieting fads and extreme food restriction.  Individuals that find themselves counting calories and skipping meals so that they can allow themselves additional alcohol are playing a dangerous game with their bodies.  Because alcohol is so dense in calories, the more someone drinks while calorie counting, the more food they will have to eliminate from their diet. This will ultimately result in a significant nutrient deficiency.  Nutritional deficiencies can cause many frightening physical symptoms such as hair loss, extreme fatigue, light-headedness, constipation, mouth sores, and diarrhea.  

The harmful effects of drinking on an empty stomach go far beyond nutritional deficiencies.  Alcohol is absorbed into the blood in several ways as it passes through the body, but the majority is absorbed through the small intestine.  Having food in your stomach before drinking slows down alcohol’s absorption into the blood. This means that without food, you will get more drunk and at a much faster rate.  For those that are abusing alcohol, drinking on an empty stomach can lead to dangerous levels of inebriation. Additionally, exposing your digestive system to alcohol without the buffer of food can increase the likelihood of digestive issues such as gastritis and chronic diarrhea.  Counting calories obsessively and structuring your life around a severely limited food intake may also be a sign of a eating disorder. If you find you are experiencing mental or physical health issues as a result of extreme dieting but are unable to stop, you may need to seek professional help.  


Many people who experience a problematic relationship with food find themselves turning to substances to help them eat without guilt, or to cope with unwanted emotions.  If you believe you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and mental health issues, now is the time to reach out for help. At Burning Tree West, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals who specialize in helping young adults struggling with addiction, and their families.  Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives in a way that fosters lasting sobriety. We believe that practicing recovery doesn’t have to mean an end to educational or career goals, but instead can become a fundamental part of a successful and fulfilling life.  For more information on how we can help, call us now at 972-962-7374