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Weight Loss Surgery Patients More Likely to Use Alcohol and/or Drugs


A recent journal published online in the Archives of Surgery website documented that following weight loss surgery (WSL) patients are more likely to increase frequency of substance use (drug, alcohol, and/or tobacco use).The study included 155 participants who were primarily female and included both Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgeries and laparoscopic adjustable gastric band surgery. The increase in substance abuse did not occur immediately following surgery, but slowly increased within the following two years. Alexis Conason, Psych. D., from the New York Obesity and Nutrition Research Center also studied the relationship between weight loss surgeries and chemical dependency and found the same trends as the Archives of Surgery study.

One underlying neurobiological explanation for this trend is that one part of the brain essential in substance abuse difficulties is also responsible for binge eating disorders (Quick Tips for Wellness, 2012). As a result, when binge eating becomes an inapplicable option due to the gastric bypass or gastric band, individuals may turn to other addictive mediums. This transferring of the addictive tendency to different outlets or addictive mediums is referred to by some as “addiction swapping” (Mann).

Additionally, the way in which individuals absorb alcohol changes after the surgery, especially in the case of individuals who had Rous-en-Y gastric bypass surgeries. Rous-en-Y gastric bypass surgeries, generally done laparoscopically, allow food (and alcohol) to pass more directly through the intestines. Due to this, individuals often become intoxicated with a smaller amount of alcohol much more quickly. Dr. Jaime Ponce, a bariatric surgeon, thinks that much of the metabolizing of the alcohol that would normally occur in the stomach goes on directly in the liver, which is partially responsible for the faster intoxication and gives more “reward” in the neural pathways (Mann). If weight loss surgery patients get Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery in particular, they are more at risk for alcohol abuse (Quick Tips for Wellness, 2012).

Of course, Dr. Conason points out that these findings reflect trends, and not every individual who undergoes this kind of surgery will experience an increase in substance use or abuse (Mann). It may be beneficial for individuals to consider their own addiction history and family substance abuse history before getting weight loss surgery (Quick Tips for Wellness, 2012).  It may be a potential health problem to keep an eye on and prevent from becoming severe. Dr. Conason recommends carefully monitoring for signs of chemical dependency or abuse following weight loss surgery (Mann).

Undergoing weight loss surgery is a major life change and the resulting stress may also lead to manifesting underlying chemical dependency tendencies. Regardless of whether or not and individual is prone to or at risk of substance abuse, seeking psychological treatment and support during the transition leading up to and following weight loss surgery can help with a variety of psychological stressors.



Mann, D. (n.d.). Weight-Loss Surgery May Boost Risk for Alcohol, Drug Abuse: Study. Retrieved from Health Day.

Quick Tips for Wellness. (2012, October 18). Increased drug, alcohol and cigarette use associated with post-Weight Loss Surgery. Retrieved from HamptonRoads.com.

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Filed under: Addiction, Conditions and Disorders, Eating disorders, Research · Tags: abusing alcohol, side effects of Gastric bypass surgeries, substance abuse, surgery, weight loss, women abusing alcohol

  • Lisa Nelson

    What this article didn’t mention was that multiple studies show that the increase in these problems appears to be linked to WLS that bypass the intestine. Restrictive only procedures show no such increase. Additionally problems typically do not manifest until year 2 which is completely contrary the the oft proposed yet unsubstantiated idea if transferrence. It that really is the case you would see comparable rates of increase among all types of WLS that restrict intake. But the fact is there is only an increase in procedures that bypass the intestine like the RNY. But it doesn’t surprise me that addiction treatment facilities are so woefully informed. Patient upon patient has relayed similar stories of facilites who know nothing of the psychological and behavioral problems associated with malabsorption. It is frequently a struggle to get even a multi-vitamin or B-12 shot despite the plethora of data on nutrient deficiencies that mimic depression and even dementia. One only has to look at the deficiency symptoms for iron, copper, all B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, etc. Yet the only solutions offered are 12-steps and the ever popular series of SSRIs.

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