Does Weight Loss Surgery Contribute To Alcohol Problems?

Bariatric surgery (used to treat obesity) seems to be correlated an increased abusing of alcohol in patients.

Some people, particularly younger men, may develop alcohol use disorder (AUD) two years after having a certain type of weight loss surgery, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study followed more than 2,000 men and women who had the bariatric surgery to treat obesity, at 10 different hospitals in the United States. Patients were interviewed before surgery and several times afterward.

The increased abuse or dependence on alcohol doesn’t appear the first year after surgery. But during the second year, almost 10 percent of the patients showed symptoms of alcohol use disorder. Patients who did develop AUD were more likely to be:

  • male
  • younger
  • smokers
  • those who already regularly drank alcohol
  • those who used recreational drugs
  • those who reported a lower sense of belonging in psychological tests.

One certain type of surgery, the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, was also more likely to be involved than laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (the “lap band”)or other less common procedures. Prior studies have shown alcohol sensitivity is increased by this surgery, but not by the other types. The path to the small intestine is shorter, so alcohol reaches it more quickly. Patients report feeling the effects of alcohol faster, and taking longer to return to being sober. Some report becoming intoxicated on less alcohol than before, and others report trouble controlling the amount they drink.

The researchers do not suggest changing the type of surgery, which is the most commonly used for bariatric surgery, despite an almost doubling of alcohol problems after the procedure. Instead, they suggest doctors warn patients about the potential, and watch for symptoms. Referrals for treatment can be offered as well.

Some patients may have had problems with alcohol at some point prior to surgery, but were able to control them until after they had recovered. Others may have hidden their symptoms in order to qualify for the surgery.

No studies have been done to determine safe levels of drinking after this type of weight loss surgery. The researchers did caution that a number of patients were consuming three or more drinks per day, which could lead to other health problems. While their study does not prove a cause and effect from the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, it does strongly suggest a connection.

Further research is recommended to discover any longer term effects, and we recommend anyone who knows someone having this surgery warn them about this possible danger.