Alcohol Use and Weight Loss Surgery

Alcohol has its dangers, especially in excess, whether a person has had weight loss surgery or not. However, there may be cause for added caution when a postoperative bariatric surgical patient considers drinking, especially on a regular basis.

Weight loss surgery affects the way the body absorbs alcohol. The food or drink that a postoperative patient consumes, reaches the intestines more quickly, especially after gastric bypass. The bypass reduces the physical size of the stomach and eliminates the natural valve between the stomach and small intestine known as the stoma. Since alcohol can be absorbed through the intestinal walls more readily, a smaller amount of alcohol can have profound effects. This is not only because it has less time in the stomach getting diluted by gastric juices, but also because less is being absorbed by tissue in the stomach. During the first six months after surgery, patients should not consume any alcohol as it can irritate the sensitive stomach and intestine. Even longer term, caloric intake is limited and drinking alcohol during this time, even in small amounts, could significantly increase a patient’s sensitivity to its effects.

The low calorie and carbohydrate intake after surgery also reduces blood sugar levels. The brain, specifically, needs sugar to function and drinking alcohol can deplete the stores of sugar the body naturally holds. This causes blood sugar levels to drop. Alcohol reduces the supply of necessary sugars to the brain and can result in unconsciousness, brain damage, and even death. Extreme cases like this are few and far between, but not unheard of.

Weight loss surgeons will advise their patients on how and when they can consume alcohol; however, people who have weight loss surgery tend to make a concerted effort to avoid the empty calories in alcohol. Drinking, even in moderation, can add hundreds or even thousands of calories to the patient’s diet each week. This makes it all the harder to reach their weight loss goals.

Some weight loss surgery patients may have a chemical and mental addiction to food. When they are no longer able to “feed” their addiction, they may turn to other substances to take their place. Alcohol may be one of these. It is important that patients having an inappropriate relationship with alcohol seek qualified addiction treatment.

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