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Gastric Bypass Surgery and Alcoholism

Posted in Alcoholism

Each year over 100,000 people turn to gastric bypass surgery to drastically reduce their weight. Typically the surgery is performed on individuals who have struggled with their weight for years, have unsuccessfully tried many diets and weight loss programs, and are overweight to a point that their overall health is at risk.

This level of obesity causes significant health problems. Sadly, it may even lead to death if left unchecked and if the sufferers do not seek help. For many who have this surgery, it is a life-saving procedure. However, there are many risks and challenging issues that can still plague someone even after they successfully transform their bodies by way of gastric bypass surgery. Studies are beginning to reveal a startling link between gastric bypass surgery and post surgery alcoholism.

Metabolism changes

One physical reason those who have gastric bypass may develop alcoholism is the different manner in which alcohol is metabolized in the system of a person post surgery. After gastric bypass surgery has taken place, the stomach enzymes that slowly break down alcohol and release it into the blood stream are no longer able to do so. When alcohol is consumed, it bypasses this process.

As a result, the alcohol is very quickly absorbed into the blood stream. Quick absorption means the effects of the alcohol are felt much more quickly and intensely. It also takes longer for these effects to wear off. After surgery, many people find that it takes only one drink for them to feel much more intoxicated than they did prior to having the surgery. It is easy to see why and how this could lead to overindulgence. Someone who may have been a social drinker in the past now may find the same amount of alcohol leads to heavy intoxication.

Addiction transfer

Aside from the physical reasons someone may overindulge and develop more of a dependence on alcohol after gastric bypass surgery, there are many psychological reasons for this as well. The phenomenon of addiction transfer is being widely studied as a reason for the increase in alcoholism in gastric bypass patients. Some recent figures suggest that as many as 30% of those who have a gastric bypass engage in some sort of addiction transfer. Addiction transfer means they are simply replacing one addiction for another.

For someone who has reached the point of needing gastric bypass surgery, food was quite often a way to cope with life in general, as well as painful and uncomfortable emotions, and an entire host of other difficult issues. Once they have surgery and simply can’t overindulge in the compulsive eating that soothed their pain, calmed them down, or helped them in the past, they simply find a new addiction on which to focus. While for some it may be gambling, smoking or shopping, for others it becomes alcohol.

Addiction transfer happens because the issues that led a person to overeat don’t automatically disappear once he or she has surgery. If the gastric bypass recipient does not work to resolve the problems or issues that led to the weight problem in the first place, they will still be there after the excess weight is gone. The gastric bypass survivor will certainly find a new way to fill that still present void or fall back into an addictive pattern with alcohol instead of food.

Liquid courage

Alcohol is also an easy addiction for gastric bypass survivors to fall into for other reasons. When people finally conquer their weight issues – which were life-long issues for many – they are anxious and excited to do all the things they couldn’t or wouldn’t do before. For some, social situations often brought avoidance or shame because of their weight. Now their new body is something they want to show off and share.

While they may still feel timid or socially inept following their surgery, alcohol, with its disinhibiting effect, can naturally ease those feelings and make it easier to socialize without anxiety. These inner fears and feelings of uneasiness can be masked and even temporarily alleviated with the use of alcohol. Using it as an ice breaker or as “liquid courage” is not uncommon for those who have a new lease on life. However, it can quickly become a crutch leading to an addiction.

Because of alcohol’s high calories and complete lack of nutritional value, it is recommended that patients who have gastric bypass surgery completely abstain from alcohol for six months to a year after their surgery. The new found link between alcohol addiction and gastric bypass has led doctors to discuss alcohol dependence and the potential for abuse as part of the screening process for the surgery.