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. Itís 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.
Image Credit: Bruno DeRegge