A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found a higher rate of drug- and alcohol-related deaths in people who have previously undergone surgery for weight loss. Published in the journal of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, the study monitored 2,458 adults over the course of seven years. Each of the subjects was monitored both before and after bariatric surgery. The assessments monitored a wide variety of lifestyle factors, including drug and alcohol use.

Of those adults, ten deaths related to drug or alcohol use were recorded. The researchers concluded that mortality from drug or alcohol abuse was higher than anticipated.

Comparing Drug- and Alcohol-Related Deaths with Other Surgeries

According to researchers, standard assessments did not previously rate these individuals as at risk for substance abuse. The survey participants each participated in a procedure known as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, which includes stomach reduction and shortening the intestine.

Following a standard formula for statistical analysis, the study indicates that the rate of death due to drug and alcohol abuse for people who undertook this surgery is 89 for every 100,000 people. This is much higher than the alcohol- and drug-related death statistics for the standard population, which indicate a death rate of 30.5 for every 100,000 people.

The increased number of deaths related to alcohol or drugs in people who have had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery has prompted greater discussion about screening tools and other preventative measures.

Alcohol-Related Death Risk Increased

The study cites a number of experts who have theorized the reasons for why the surgery may increase the risk of death from substance abuse. They note that the measurement of alcohol abuse increased over the course of the analysis in this study. Furthermore, the removal of portions of the stomach and intestines has a profound impact on the digestive systems of participants. The research has provided evidence that a standard unit of alcohol causes twice as high a level of blood alcohol concentration after this surgery.

In other words, someone who has had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery can drink two drinks but their body reacts as though they have had four drinks. It would appear that this sensitivity can lead to abuse and even death.

A noteworthy element of this study is that alcoholism was not indicated before participants underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. In fact, their issues with substance abuse appeared to surface only after surgery.

Acute causes of alcohol-related deaths are alcohol poisoning or suicide by alcohol. However, there are many other alcohol-related underlying causes of death that are classified as chronic including:

Better Pre-Screening Needed to Prevent Alcohol-Related Deaths

Before and after their surgery, all participants were given standard substance abuse screening tools. Of the 835 women in the study, none of them scored low enough on any assessments to indicate having an issue with substance abuse.

The chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Yale School of Medicine told U.S. News and World Report that the body has a profoundly different physiological reaction to alcohol after this kind of weight loss surgery. This may mean that entirely different screening tools are required to inform medical care providers that their patients are at risk.

Early Warning Signs of a Drinking Problem

Signs of a drinking problem may differ in people who have had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. This study may open a wider conversation for physicians to broadly observe their patients for signs of alcohol abuse. Many alcohol-related deaths can be prevented if someone gets the help that they need. People who are struggling with alcohol addiction may have some obvious symptoms, including:

  • Habit changes
  • Regularly binge drink
  • Physical altercations or violence
  • Missing scheduled events or appointments
  • Memory loss
  • Lying
  • Inability to not drink

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