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.

Research on the Link Between Gastric Bypass Surgery and Alcoholism

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.

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