What Are The 'Drunchies?' Alcohol May Stimulate The Brain To Feel Hungry And Fuel Weight Gain

A bartender and a guest drink a shot of vodka at a bar on August 7, 2018, in Berlin, Germany. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Heavy drinking on college campuses could be another factor fueling the obesity epidemic, a new study suggested.

Researchers at three universities across the country teamed up to understand how students are influenced by the "drunchies," a term they used to describe the desire to eat salty and fatty foods during or after a night of heavy drinking. They found that drinking influenced peoples' dietary choices before going to bed. Alcohol consumption correlated with snacking on unhealthy foods like pizza, according to a study published in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion.

"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," Jessica Kruger, clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior at University at Buffalo, said in a statement.

New research suggests that young adults are more likely to eat junk food after a night of drinking. Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The researchers found that study participants were less interested in eating healthy foods, such as dark green vegetables and other veggies they would ordinarily eat.

"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 Kruger, the lead author on the paper.

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

Traditional addiction research often overlooks the connection between alcohol consumption and eating unhealthy food. Research on this subject is scarce, Kruger said.

The researchers thought to undergo the study after coming across an ad in a university newspaper for pizza, tacos and other fast food. It read, "Got Drunchies?"

Since as many as 65 percent of U.S. college students report that they regularly drink alcohol, it's crucial to understand how alcohol consumption changes diet, 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.

Study participants completed an anonymous online survey, answering questions about their diet and their alcohol consumption.

The researchers found that participants didn't report drinking more water before bed, which could exacerbate dehydration, and may lead to more unhealthy food choices.

The day after drinking, participants' dietary patterns changed from the night before. They gravitated toward foods like pizza or tacos over milk 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, the researchers reported.

The study's findings point to the need for universities to educate students on healthy eating and cutting back unhealthy foods options on campuses, Kruger said.