In many cultures, alcohol is a central part of life. Many adults drink socially at special events, dinners out, or casually around the home.
However, bariatric surgery and alcohol do not go well together. While alcohol is not generally linked to dangerous conditions when consumed moderately and responsibly, use after surgery can have significant negative effects. After undergoing a bariatric procedure, especially gastric bypass surgery, your body will metabolize alcohol differently.
This, if you are used to alcohol consumption at any level, it's important to adapt your habits both before and after undergoing a surgical weight loss procedure. Otherwise, you may be at a higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder post surgery.
Post-Surgery Diet for Bariatric Surgery Patients
Bariatric surgery changes the size of your stomach, strongly impacting how you can eat and what you can eat. Patients fully recovered from surgery are limited to small portions, protein-heavy diets, and a reduced intake of foods with high carb and sugar contents. In part, this is what contributes to your desired rapid weight loss.
Due to these changes, beverages must be consumed at least one to two hours after eating. When food and drink are enjoyed simultaneously, beverages may fill up the stomach prematurely in a way that can increase malnutrition risks.
As such, diets should be planned very carefully, focusing on nutrient-rich dishes rather than nutritionless substances like alcohol.
Bariatric Surgery and Alcohol
Bariatric surgery stimulates changes to your body's biology that can radically alter how different substances are processed and absorbed, including alcohol. Studies have shown that drinking alcohol before and after surgery can impact blood alcohol concentrations.
In one particular study a single glass of red wine that caused a blood alcohol concentration of 0.024% prior to surgery resulted in a BAC of 0.059% three months after surgery and 0.088% six months after surgery.
A drink that may not have registered before surgery could be dangerous after surgery, especially as the body changes throughout the healing process.
What Types of Bariatric Surgeries Put You Most at Risk?
While there are many types of bariatric surgeries, one in particular, gastric bypass surgery (AKA Roux-en-Y surgery), has been linked to numerous instances of alcoholism post-surgery.
During gastric bypass surgery, the stomach enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol, Alcohol Dehydrogenase, is significantly reduced as a portion of the stomach is removed. This allows more alcohol to filter into the bloodstream.
As a result, gastric bypass patients reach peak levels quicker, have higher than average blood alcohol levels after drinking, and hold alcohol in their systems for longer.
Can I Keep Drinking Alcohol After My Bariatric Surgery?
Even if you only drink socially on special occasions, alcohol use is not suggested after bariatric surgery. Alcohol contains empty calories with little nutritional benefit, filling your stomach with the wrong things without leaving room for the right ones.
One glass may be all it takes to put your blood alcohol content over the legal limit. Bariatric surgery patients who do choose to drink on occasion should not drive after doing so, and should significantly limit intake, regardless of previous tolerance.
The lifestyle changes that accompany bariatric surgery, like a reduction or cessation of alcohol consumption, may not be easy, but they are necessary to ensure a healthy recovery and a healthy life.
If you must drink, please adhere to these additional guidelines:
- Do not drink after the first six months post-surgery.
- If you find you only drink only in times of emotional distress, seek the help of a professional before you develop alcohol dependence.
- Check the calorie content of your alcoholic beverage before consuming it.
- When your doctor approves that you can begin drinking once more, avoid surgery and carbonated drinks.
- Drink in great moderation, even a small amount can be bad for you as a bariatric patient.
How to Reduce Alcohol-Related Problems Post-Surgery
In the United States, we often get so caught up in making resolutions (“I will never drink again!”) we forget to focus on changing the behaviors and habits we’ve already developed.
Instead of avoiding unwanted behaviors, we should face them head on and resolve to fix them. Here are a few tactics you need to keep in mind to reduce your risk of alcohol-related problems post-surgery:
1. Seek Professional Help
No matter how hard you try, the urge to drink may be too hard to fight on your own. If you find you’re drinking too much post-surgery and you can’t seem to stop, you need to seek professional help.
There’s no shame in seeking out the services of a therapist. They’ll help you identify the behaviors that have led to your alcohol use and will help you to overcome those behaviors.
2. Learn to Overcome the Urge to “Self-Medicate” with Alcohol
If you’ve developed a dependence on alcohol, you likely turn to the bottle as a form of self-medication. You can fight the urge to drink by learning to replace your cravings with something more wholesome and good for your health, such as hitting the gym, drinking a bottle of water, or taking up a new hobby.
3. Don’t Ride It Out Alone
You don’t have to face these tough times alone. In fact, you’re highly encouraged to go out and join a support group. Support groups allow you to connect with people who help to keep you accountable.
Support groups also give you a place to turn to when you’re celebrating your successes or when you need a shoulder to lean on during times of weakness or distress.
4. Be Open With Your Doctor
Always be completely open with your doctor. Share as much as you can – personal drinking history, addiction in the family, emotional triggers, etc.
Remember that you gain nothing from holding information back. The more your doctor knows, the more they can help you.
Olde Del Mar Cares About Your Post-Surgery Wellbeing
As a bariatric patient, you’ll have to make many changes in your life - many of them welcome, others not so much.
Know that bariatric surgery is a life long commitment that will affect every facet of your life. With that being said, it can save your life.
If you would like more information about bariatric surgery and alcohol or would like to learn more about weight loss surgery and what Olde Del Mar Surgical can do for you, contact us today.