Bariatric Patients and the Risk for Alcoholism and Cross-Addiction

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  • Bariatric Patients and the Risk for Cross-Addiction
    Those bariatric patients who might be labeled success stories are probably not the ones who thought of the surgery as a cure. The rapid results that follow weight-loss surgery can certainly feed the mindset that a bona fide miracle is in the works. The weight can melt away at a jaw-dropping pace, and the delighted recipient is treated to a honeymoon period of fast and easy results.


    There comes a point, though, when the honeymoon is over.

    The bariatric patient must be alert for pitfalls and must realize that they may in fact have an addiction to food and that such an addiction has no cure. The victory is in the remission, and if the remission is not protected the disease will return.

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    Food as an Addiction
    There is a good body of scientific evidence to support the belief that food can be addictive. One study found that women with Binge Eating Disorder met the criteria for dependence if the word "substance" was substituted for the term "binge eating." In addition, laboratory rats who were fed a high-sugar diet not only developed the same behaviors as people who are binge eaters, but showed symptoms of withdrawal when the sugar was taken away. 

    Addiction to food is the same as addiction to any number of other substances. That being said, it is also known that relief from one addiction is often substituted with some other addiction.

    A recent study found an increase in substance use by bariatric patients two years after surgery when compared to such behaviors prior to surgery. When bariatric clients who were receiving inpatient treatment for substance abuse (such as alcohol and other drugs) were questioned as to why they believed they turned to substances, 75% answered it was due to unresolved conflicts, while 83% claimed addiction transfer.   

    Low distress tolerance and food addiction are areas that may require additional focus for those undergoing bariatric surgery in that they are at higher risk for substituting food addiction with substance abuse. 

    Studies have shown that there is a change in sensitivity to alcohol following gastric bypass surgery. A survey developed by the World Health Organization found that 7% of gastric bypass patients reported symptoms of alcohol use disorders prior to surgery. Two years after surgery, the volume of patients reporting those symptoms was 10.7%

    While many medical experts have attributed alcohol abuse by gastric bypass patients as cross-addiction, it seems as though biology may be the culprit. 

    Changes made to the stomach and intestines from gastric bypass surgery cause alcohol to rapidly enter the bloodstream and the bypass patient feels the effect of the substance quickly. This speedy absorption produces a high peak and rapid decline. The higher absorption rate makes the alcohol more addictive.

    The effects of alcohol also wear off quickly, which allows the bypass patient to drink more. 


    Living life well-fed,

    My Bariatric Life

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Published On: February 23, 2014