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When Losing Weight Means Gaining a Drinking Problem

Nearly 40 percent of Americans suffer from obesity— that’s according to official numbers from the Centers for Disease Control. In many of these individuals, obesity has reached a stage that presents an immediate and urgent danger to their health. Gastric bypass surgery can succeed where other weight loss methods fail. Unfortunately, a side effect of this procedure can sometimes be a change in a person’s relationship to alcohol. Let’s examine why you might be more vulnerable to alcoholism after gastric bypass surgery—and how you can steer yourself toward optimal health and wellness.

How Does Gastric Bypass Surgery Work?

Gastric bypass surgery is reserved for more extreme cases of obesity, that haven’t been successfully treated with other methods. In the most common form of this procedure, Roux-en-Y surgery, a small portion of the top of the stomach is closed off from the rest of the stomach. Part of the small intestine is then attached directly to this stomach pouch. The food you eat passes through these structures, bypassing the rest of the stomach and part of the intestinal system. As a result, you absorb fewer nutrients and calories, and cannot consume as much food. Some patients have lost hundreds of pounds through gastric bypass surgery.

An Increased Risk of Alcoholism?

alcoholism after gastric bypass
Photo by Thomas Picauly on Unsplash

Gastric bypass surgery is not without its potential issues, even for teetotalers. But if you also drink alcohol, you may have additional challenges to worry about. It appears that after the surgery, most people become much more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. According to some studies, each drink can have double the usual effect, and last up to 50 percent longer.

Getting drunker from less alcohol may sound like a bonus, but that’s exactly the problem. It turns out that 20 percent of people who have had gastric bypass surgery develop alcohol use disorder. That’s more than 3 times the rate for the general population, and cause for real concern.

And this problem may be more than a side effect of alcohol having a bigger impact. In research on lab rats, those who had undergone gastric bypass surgery developed a taste for alcohol that they hadn’t exhibited beforehand. By altering your stomach, bariatric surgery also affects your body’s hormones, including ghrelin, leptin, and dopamine. These influence how hungry you get, and the reward you get from eating, but they can also influence alcohol consumption. Drinking more after surgery may be a complicated result of greater reward, and altered body chemistry.

Either way, after Roux-en-Y it is important to be mindful of your drinking habits, and how your body may have changed.

Keeping a Healthy Relationship With Alcohol

If you undergo gastric bypass surgery, your doctor will likely tell you to avoid alcohol completely for at least the first six months of your recuperation. Afterwards, it is best to reintroduce it gradually, if at all, and pay careful attention to its impact on you. If you find that it has a more pleasurable effect, or that you are drinking more often, it might be best to abstain altogether.

For some people, a longer history of alcohol misuse may complicate the process. In this case, it can be very important to gain the upper hand over any drinking problems before surgery, and to maintain that control afterwards. This, of course, is easier said than done, especially if you are already focused on managing a dangerous weight problem.

This is where programs like Ria Health may be able to help. Through the use of telemedicine, you can now receive long-term support for alcohol use disorder from home, so you can focus on your overall health. Treatment is customizable, using a combination of prescription medications, one-on-one coaching, and online support groups. Best of all, the whole process can be done on your schedule, through your smartphone. Get in touch with us today, and learn how Ria’s program can compliment your weight-loss plans, and keep you healthy for the long term.

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