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Weight Loss Surgery Increases Alcoholism Risk

Weight Loss Surgery Increases Alcoholism Risk

A common form of weight loss surgery significantly increases the risk of alcoholism, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, in which the size of the stomach is reduced and part of the intestine is bypassed, nearly doubles the risk of alcoholism, according to the study. It is one of several that show an increased risk of alcohol addiction after bariatric surgery.

Dr. Mitchell Roslin, a bariatric surgeon at Lennox Hill Hospital in New York, told the Daily Mail that the increased risk of addiction was not caused by a patient shifting addictions from food to alcohol.

“A gastric bypass patient has a small pouch, so alcohol goes straight into the intestine and is absorbed rapidly,” Roslin said. “When it is absorbed rapidly, there is a high peak and rapid fall, and the higher absorption rate makes alcohol more addictive.”

In an interview with ABC News, Andrew Kahn, who became an alcoholic after undergoing bariatric surgery, was critical of the lack of warning.

“I never had any guidance or education about that,” said Kahn. “If I was given the choice between being obese and becoming an alcoholic, I would have thought about it more.”

While gastric bypass surgery has been hailed as a near-miracle cure for obesity, the procedure entails serious risks, from stomach perforation to malnutrition to death. Dr. Linda Bacon, a physiologist and psychologist, has been intensely critical of the procedure. In her book “Health at Every Size,” Bacon says that “people are misled about the extent and severity of the health risks associated with being fat and told that bariatric surgery is a solution. Its not. It would be more appropriately labeled high-risk disease-inducing cosmetic surgery than a health-enhancing procedure.”

Long-term studies of bariatric patients have been limited. Studies have shown some improvement in mortality rates, especially from diseases like heart disease and diabetes, but studies have also shown patients who have bariatric surgery are at greater risk of dying from causes other than disease, such as suicide, accidents and drug overdose.

It is also unclear whether alternative approaches to surgery could provide similar results. Encouraging patients to increase their activity and eat better can have a significant effect on health, even if it doesn’t affect weight. A recent study in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine indicated that obese people who eat well, exercise, drink in moderation, and do not smoke have better mortality rates than people of “normal” weight who did the same, and generally, obesity only increased mortality rates among patients who were engaging in few, if any, healthy activities.

Regardless of the risk, more and more people are opting for surgery. In 2008, it was estimated that 220,000 people had gastric bypass surgery in the United States, up from 16,000 in the early 1990s. In a society that relentlessly shames fat people, the prospect of a quick fix is too hard for people to pass up, even if that fix includes the risk of alcoholism, malnutrition and death.

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Image Credit: Bruno DeRegge

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23 comments

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8:21PM PST on Jan 30, 2013

I've known people who've had this surgery and gained their weight back again. If your not going to commit to changing your lifestyle in the health area, your gonna gain the weight back.

4:27AM PDT on Jun 22, 2012

I dont truly believe this.
Although I am not a big fan of the idea of weight loss surgery i doubt that it turns people towards over drinking and becoming addicted to alcohol - which is what alcoholism is.

2:42AM PDT on Jun 22, 2012

Thanks for the info.

6:22PM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

I don't believe this for one second. Sounds like something the press or media made up.

3:56PM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

odd

10:56AM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

A friend had the gastric bypass surgery, returning for surgery two more times to correct problems; this surgery is not always successful for permanent weight loss, nor is it safe.

8:16AM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

Maybe because they are depressed, as from my understanding , to have a gastric bypass surgery, means you have just given up your right to EVER eat anything considered a "Normal" sized portion! Sheesh...If I couldn't have a slice of pizza once in awhile I might be driven to drink!

5:00AM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

Life is about choices, to each their own

3:30AM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

Gastric Bypass surgery isn't going to turn people into alcoholics! If you weren't an alcoholic before surgery and chose to have a drink, you would just find out, rather quickly by the sound of it, that you don't need to use as much alcohol in your drinks! You have to already have the alcoholic mindset to make this into an alcoholic issue. The title of this article falsely accuses a surgical procedure that could help thousands of people gain a better handle on their food issues and their health!

The only people that should be concerned about the surgery are alcoholics that don't plan on addressing that issue! If you are an alcoholic, you need to address that issue first, before the surgery. One step at a time!

1:27AM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

Intresting post.

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