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Bariatric Surgery and Alcohol Misuse: 3 Things You Should Know

Last Updated: February 16, 2023

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Even if you undergo a surgical procedure to better your health, it is important to learn about any possible conditions that could arise from that same surgery. With the obesity rate in the United States at an all-time high, bariatric surgery may seem more desirable than ever.

Significant weight loss has innumerable health benefits. Diseases like diabetes and heart conditions could be reversed or avoided. However, the surgery could cause another disease to take hold, which can affect your well-being. This disease, which results from alcohol misuse, is an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Before consenting to this voluntary surgery, learn how it can affect your future chances of developing an AUD.

Bariatric surgery is a procedure that facilitates weight loss by restricting and reducing the amount of food that is absorbed by the body after consumption. There are multiple types of procedures defined as bariatric surgery, including adjustable gastric band, sleeve gastrectomy and biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch, or BPD/DS. The most common bariatric surgery is gastric bypass surgery, which involves a rerouting of the small intestine to completely wrap around the majority of the stomach. This allows for less food to be absorbed and leads to weight loss. Gastric bypass surgery is the most common bariatric surgery and the most connected to alcohol misuse. A report published by CBS News indicated that 21 percent of bariatric surgery patients end up with an alcohol use disorder or alcohol misuse.

Since the bariatric surgery procedure of gastric bypass changes the natural digestive track in the body to bypass the stomach, alcohol is absorbed at a much more rapid rate.  Many of the enzymes in the stomach that slowly process the alcohol are out of the picture, allowing for a quick and potentially debilitating reaction from normal alcohol consumption levels. As is the case with food post-surgery, alcohol consumption cannot occur at the average rate. It often takes a much smaller amount of alcohol for someone who has undergone bariatric surgery to achieve a comparable effect from the standard amount of alcohol when compared with someone who has not undergone the bariatric surgery. Unlike food portions, it can be much harder to find this new norm and the chances of misusing alcohol increase substantially.

The bariatric surgery can cause changes to the metabolism and the hormone balance within the body, making an individual who has gone through the surgery more vulnerable to the disease of alcohol addiction. Dopamine, the reward chemical in the brain that makes you feel satisfied by activities like eating, is affected by bariatric surgery. Instead, dopamine can be released from another high-reward activity, alcohol consumption.

Not everyone who has a bariatric surgery will develop an alcohol use disorder. However, the likelihood of developing AUD is greater for those who have had bariatric surgery than for the general population.

If you are struggling with AUD or any substance use disorder, help is available to you. Ohio addiction treatment resources include qualified addiction recovery programs like the ones you can find at The Recovery Village Columbus. Call the facility today to learn about admission to an accredited addiction treatment program.


Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.