Overheard On Campus: My friend makes herself throw up when she’s drunk just so she can drink more. Is this bad for her health?

Contributed by Beau Dooley, M.S., M.P.H., & Melissa Kelley, M.S., C.H.E.S.

Uhhh, I can’t think of any instance when throwing up means something good is happening to my body, but I had some of our experts weigh in on this question we received from a student on the Advice section of MyStudentBody.

Sick young woman leaning on toilet bowl

Beau Dooley, associate director of the Student Wellness and Outreach Office at James Madison University, says …

Vomiting in order to drink more is dangerous to your health for several reasons.  First of all, repeated forced vomiting can damage the esophagus due to the harsh effects of stomach acids irritating and inflaming the esophageal tissue. Stomach acids can also lead to tooth decay and damage to gum tissue.

More seriously, though, repeated forced vomiting in order to drink more could have more immediate life-threatening consequences. This is because vomiting empties the stomach of any food it may contain, which increases the rate of any alcohol absorption into the body and speeds up intoxication (because there is no food to act as a buffer between the alcohol and the lining of your stomach where alcohol is absorbed). Additionally, removing any alcohol from the stomach by vomiting in order to “make room” for more alcohol does not necessarily remove the intoxicating effects of the alcohol that your friend has already drunk. This is because alcohol begins to be absorbed by the body as soon as it reaches the stomach and small intestine. So if your friend is able to keep drinking more and more as a result of throwing up, her blood alcohol level (which impacts her overall intoxication) may quickly rise to dangerous levels and can result in alcohol poisoning and possibly coma or death.

If your friend continues to choose to drink, she should definitely stop her forced vomiting practices and use responsible drinking practices in order to avoid dangerous consequences.

Melissa Kelley, a health educator at University of Rochester, says …

Unfortunately, your friend has started a very unhealthy and dangerous habit. While purposefully throwing up in any context can be unhealthy, intentionally throwing up to drink more alcohol can be deadly. Our bodies process alcohol at approximately 1 drink per hour, so the safest way to drink is no more than 1 drink per hour for a maximum of 4 drinks. If your friend is rapidly consuming alcohol, which means drinking more than 1 drink per hour, or she is drinking more than 4 drinks in a night, she is putting herself at risk for alcohol poisoning.

While your friend might believe that the act of throwing up is getting rid of the alcohol she has already had, that is not what is really happening. Alcohol moves pretty quickly from our stomach to the small intestine and then into our bloodstream. While she might be able to throw up some of the alcohol that she has yet to digest, she will not rid her body of the majority of what she has consumed. If she continues to drink more, this will cause her blood alcohol content to rise, which then puts her at risk for a variety of negative effects such as blacking out, passing out, and even death.

Please encourage your friend to seek help from a professional on campus.  Most campuses have programs for students that provide education and skills for developing more responsible drinking behaviors. I hope this helps!

Do you have any other advice to share? Write it in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Overheard On Campus: My friend makes herself throw up when she’s drunk just so she can drink more. Is this bad for her health?

  1. This is really bad. Once the alcohol is excreted from the body, it does not mean that it is now okay to drink more. For me throwing up after drinking is a sign that I need to stop and will not drink again.

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