University at Buffalo Study Shows How Heavy Drinking Affects Diet

Dr. Jessica Kruger

Published August 16, 2018

“Given the obesity epidemic and the rates of alcohol consumption on college campuses, we need to be aware of not only the negative effect of alcohol consumption, but also the impact it has on what people are eating while they are drinking.”
Department of Community Health and Health Behavior

They're called the "drunchies," or drunk munchies. It's the desire one has to eat salty, fatty, unhealthy foods during or after a night of heavy drinking. With obesity continuing to rise in America, researchers decided to look at a sample of college students to better understand how drinking affects what they eat, both that night and for their first meal the next day when, most likely, they're hungover. It should come as no surprise that they’re not eating kale smoothies and fresh oranges at 4 a.m.

“Given the obesity epidemic and the rates of alcohol consumption on college campuses, we need to be aware of not only the negative effect of alcohol consumption, but also the impact it has on what people are eating while they are drinking,” says Dr. Jessica Kruger, clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Dr. Kruger is the lead author on a newly published paper that examines heavy episodic drinking and dietary choices while drinking and on the following day. Dr. Kruger and her colleagues conducted their study on a sample of 286 students at a large public university in the Midwest. (The study, published in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion, did not receive any federal funding.)

The inspiration for the study came from an ad Dr. Kruger and some of her co-authors saw in a university newspaper. “It said, ‘Got Drunchies?’ and had ads for pizza, tacos, and other fast-food places that were open late after the bars closed,” Dr. Kruger says. “So, we dug a bit deeper and first figured out what the ‘drunchies’ were, and then decided this would be interesting to study. Our first study in this area focused on what people ate while drinking alcohol. This study explored what they eat the day after drinking,” Dr. Kruger said.

Researchers found that drinking influenced study participants’ dietary behaviors before going to bed. They were more likely to opt for salty snack foods and pizza. Healthy foods, such as dark green vegetables and other veggies they would ordinarily eat, weren’t as appealing. The following day after drinking, participants’ dietary patterns varied from the night before. They were less likely to skip meals the morning after a night of drinking compared to a typical morning.

And they favored foods like pizza or tacos over milk and dairy products and grains, most likely because of the so-called hangover cures that get passed down to students and which entail eating foods that “soak up” the alcohol. Dispelling these myths is one way to promote a healthy diet even after a night of binge drinking, Dr. Kruger says.

So what’s happening in the body that causes the drunchies? “It is believed that after drinking alcohol, the amount of blood glucose in the body can rise and fall which stimulates the brain to feel hungry,” Dr. Kruger explains.