When a person meets the stringent criteria related to morbid obesity, he or she may elect to undergo bariatric surgery. While this radical approach to weight loss might be effective in breaking food addiction, it has an unfortunate side effect. Studies show that bariatric patients have a greater risk of becoming alcoholics.

Research on the Link Between Gastric Bypass Surgery and Alcoholism

In one study, for over seven years, researchers followed more than 2,000 patients who had bariatric surgery at ten different hospitals across the U.S. Nearly 21 percent of those studied developed an alcohol use disorder.  Of the patients studied, 20 percent of those who underwent the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery and 11 percent who underwent gastric banding reported alcoholism.

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

Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery appears to create a greater risk for alcoholism due to several factors. First, some animal research suggests that this procedure could affect the areas of the brain that are associated with reward, which would make the patient more susceptible to alcohol sensitivity. For some with a food addiction, there may simply be a switch to alcohol as an alternative. Another possibility is that there are hormonal and metabolic changes that take place with the surgery which leaves patients more vulnerable to alcoholism.

Are People Who Overeat Predisposed to Alcoholism?

There are approximately 200,000 bariatric procedures performed each year, approximately 80 percent of which are gastric bypass procedures. These surgeries allow about half of the patients to keep their extra weight off as long as a decade after the procedure and reduce the risk of mortality from issues such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Why people who have these procedures seem to suffer from greater instances of alcoholism remains somewhat of a mystery.  In 1990, neuroscientist Dr. Kenneth Blum with the University of Florida found a correlation between a genetic deficiency in the brain’s dopamine-binding receptors and alcoholism. 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 that the link between bariatric procedures and alcoholism is a combination of physical and emotional factors. The fact is that many obese people use food as a drug and then realize that surgery is not the ultimate cure. In fact, a procedure can only fix the outside of a person, while the underlying issues may remain unchanged. If there are emotional issues that drive addiction, these will still be present once one of those addictive substances is taken away.

If you or any of your loved ones suffer from alcoholism after a bariatric procedure, you are not alone. Not only are there comprehensive drug and alcohol rehab services available to treat your needs at The Recovery Village, but we also treat co-occurring disorders including eating disorders. Contact us today to learn about admissions and discuss your options with one of our highly qualified addictions specialists.

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