Certain types of bariatric surgery have been linked to the development of alcohol addiction. Multiple factors are at play in this relationship.

Some people who struggle with morbid obesity may choose to undergo a gastric bypass or similar form of bariatric surgery. Although bariatric surgery can help with weight loss, it may also have an unfortunate side effect. Studies show that some bariatric patients have a greater risk of developing an alcohol addiction.

In 2018, 252,000 metabolic and bariatric surgeries were performed in the United States. These surgeries allow around 50% of patients to keep their extra weight off as long as a decade after the procedure. Additionally, the surgeries help reduce mortality risks from conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. However, they may also lead to a higher risk of substance use.

A large review of more than 40,000 bariatric surgery patients found a link between bariatric surgery and certain substance use disorders, including alcohol abuse. This link was especially strong in people who went through a type of bariatric surgery called Roux-en-Y.

Roux-en-Y gastric bypass is a surgery that shrinks the size of the stomach and changes the connections to the small intestine. Gastric banding involves placing an adjustable band around the stomach to regulate the amount of food it can hold.

In another study, researchers followed more than 2,000 patients who had bariatric surgery at ten different hospitals across the country. Nearly 21% of those studied developed an alcohol use disorder. Further, 20% of people who went through Roux-en-Y and 11% who underwent gastric banding developed an alcohol addiction.

Risk Factors for Alcohol Use Disorder After Bariatric Surgery

Risk factors that can cause an alcohol use disorder to develop after bariatric surgery may include:

  • Being male
  • Being younger
  • Smoking
  • Drinking regularly
  • Having less social support

Roux-en-Y may create a greater risk for alcohol addiction due to several factors. First, some animal research suggests that the procedure could affect the areas of the brain that are associated with reward. If this is true, it means patients may be more susceptible to alcohol sensitivity. Another possibility is that surgery creates hormonal and metabolic changes that leave patients more vulnerable to alcohol addiction.

One final factor may be that some patients are unknowingly swapping a food addiction for an addiction to alcohol. In 1990, neuroscientist Dr. Kenneth Blum found a correlation between alcoholism and a genetic deficiency in the brain’s dopamine-binding receptors. Blum predicted that patients who have this deficiency would turn to alcohol once the ability to binge eat is removed.

Getting Help With Comprehensive Drug and Alcohol Rehab

Many addiction experts believe the link between bariatric procedures and alcohol addiction is caused by a combination of physical and emotional factors. Some people develop addictive tendencies toward food and then realize that surgery is not the ultimate cure for their condition. A procedure can only fix the outside of a person, so underlying issues may remain unchanged. If emotional issues are driving a person’s addiction, these will still exist once the addictive substance is taken away — whether it’s food, alcohol or a drug.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction and a co-occurring eating disorder, The Recovery Village is here to help. We provide dual diagnosis treatment that addresses addiction as well as any underlying mental health conditions you may have. Contact us today to discuss your treatment options with one of our highly qualified admission specialists and learn more about what our facilities have to offer.

a man wearing a blue and white striped shirt.
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
a woman wearing glasses and a white robe.
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

King, Wendy C.; Chen, Jia-Yuh; Courcoulas, Anita P.; et al. “Alcohol and Other Substance Use after Ba[…]icenter Cohort Study.” Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, March 31, 2017. Accessed September 12, 2021.

Ivezaj, Valentina; Benoit, Stephen; Davis, Jon; et al. “Changes in Alcohol Use after Metabolic a[…]ctors and Mechanisms.” Current Psychiatry Reports, August 13, 2019. Accessed September 12, 2021.

Cerón-Solano, Giovanni; Zepeda, Rossana C.; Lozano, José Gilberto Romero; et al. “Bariatric surgery and alcohol and substa[…] A systematic review.” Cirugía Española (English Edition), April 28, 2021. Accessed September 12, 2021.

English, Wayne J.; DeMaria, Eric J.; Hutter, Matthew M.; et al. “American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery 2018 estimate of metabolic and bariatric procedures performed in the United States.” Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, January 5, 2020. Accessed September 12, 2021.

Blum, Kenneth; Noble, Ernest P.; Sheridan, Peter J.; et al. “Allelic Association of Human Dopamine D2[…]r Gene in Alcoholism.” Journal of the American Medical Association, April 18, 1990. Accessed September 12, 2021.

American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. “Benefits of Weight Loss Surgery.” September 2020. Accessed September 12, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.