A night of heavy drinking often brings on the “drunchies” — or drunk munchies, in case you’re not up on the latest slang, and that means salty, fatty and all-around unhealthy food. Giant burritos. Half a pizza.

In a new study, researchers observed the drunchies in 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 hung over.

“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,” said Jessica Kruger, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Studies on the effects of drinking and diet are scarce, Kruger said. And eating more unhealthy foods following alcohol consumption is an often overlooked behavior in traditional addiction research.

Kruger and her colleagues from the University of Michigan, University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University, observed 286 students at a large public university in the Midwest.

The inspiration for the study came from an ad 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,” Kruger said.

“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,” Kruger said.

With 65 percent of U.S. college students reporting that they regularly drink alcohol, it’s important, Kruger says, to look at how alcohol consumption affects diet, especially on and near college campuses, which tend to have a wealth of unhealthy fast-food options nearby.

Consider, for example, that the average beer contains 150 calories. Five beers would equal 750 calories, or a third of one’s daily energy intake. Add two slices of pizza or a burrito to that at the end of the night, and it’s a recipe for weight gain.

For the study, the students completed an anonymous online survey, which began with general questions around diet, such as “What do you typically eat for your first meal of the day?” and “How often do you eat something before you go to bed?”

They were also asked how often they ate something before bed on nights when they drank alcohol, what they ate, and what they typically ate for their first meal the day after a night of binge drinking.

The findings show that drinking influenced study participants’ dietary behaviors before going to bed. “All alcohol drinkers were more likely to eat something before they went to bed after drinking alcohol than in general before they go to bed,” Kruger and her colleagues wrote.

Specifically, they were more likely to opt for salty snack foods and pizza. Healthy foods, such as dark green vegetables and other veggies weren’t as appealing.

In addition, the students didn’t report drinking more water or other non-alcoholic beverages before bed. That exacerbates dehydration, which may also lead to unhealthy food choices.

The following day after drinking, participants’ dietary patterns varied from the night before. They were less likely to skip breakfast after a night of drinking compared to a typical morning.

But breakfast often involved foods like pizza or tacos, most likely because of the mythical 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, Kruger said.

So what exactly 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,” said Kruger.

The findings highlight the need for universities to encourage healthy eating at all times of the day, including late at night, she said, by reducing the offerings of unhealthy foods and promoting nutrient-dense options.

Source: University at Buffalo