Bariatric Patients Found To Be at Greater Risk for Alcoholism

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According to research, alcohol use disorder has been associated with a bariatric surgery called Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB). (1) These procedures are performed on individuals who struggle with morbid obesity, as they assist with weight loss. Unfortunately, these surgeries have side effects, including an increased risk of developing alcohol dependence.

If you’ve had bariatric surgery and are struggling to control your drinking, you may have an alcohol use disorder. Guardian Recovery is committed to helping individuals who misuse alcohol and other substances that are motivated to end their addictive behaviors. We offer individualized treatment plans, various levels of care, and clinically-proven therapies and services. Contact us today if you’re ready to break free from your unhealthy coping methods and foster a fulfilling life of sobriety and wellness.

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The Link Between Alcohol Dependence & Bariatric Surgery

The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) reports that in 2018, more than 252,000 metabolic and bariatric procedures were performed in the United States. (2) A 2017 study found individuals who undergo bariatric weight loss surgery may be at a heightened risk of alcoholism. (3)

For the study, researchers analyzed long-term changes in RYGB bariatric surgery patients. This weight loss procedure alters the small intestine’s structure and dramatically reduces the stomach’s size. More than 2,300 patients were examined over a 7-year follow-up after a bariatric procedure. (4) Of those, RYGB was the most common surgery, undergone by nearly 1500 patients.

Another 500 underwent laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB), a procedure in which an adjustable band is placed around the upper region of the stomach, thereby restricting food intake.

Study Results

Study findings revealed a strong link between undergoing RYGB surgery and developing alcohol misuse problems later. Moreover, nearly 21% or 1-in-5 RYGB patients developed alcohol-related issues within five years of the surgery. (5) In addition, the study revealed RYGB patients were nearly twice as likely as those who underwent the LAGB (11.3%) to exhibit symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, which was measured using AUDIT. (6)

Furthermore, of those participants free from alcohol misuse in the year before the procedure (versus the seven-year follow-up), RYGB patients were more than twice as likely as LAGB patients to develop alcoholism. (7)

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Why Is RYGB Linked to Heavy Alcohol Use?

The researchers could not explain precisely what mechanisms are associated with RYGB and an increased risk of alcoholism so much more than other procedures. However, a 2013 study found RYGB may increase the level of alcohol in the bloodstream faster and higher than other weight loss procedures. (8)

Researchers from the 2017 study also speculated that RYGB might increase tolerance by manipulating hormones that control the brain’s reward circuits. Another reason may be that, due in part to a dopamine-related genetic deficiency, patients are unwittingly trading a food addiction for an alcohol addiction. (9)

Owing to these findings, authors concluded that “education, screening, evaluation, and treatment referral [for alcohol use disorder] should be incorporated in pre- and postoperative care.” (10)

In addition to the 2013 study, a systematic review of approximately 49,000 bariatric surgery patients discovered a link between bariatric surgery and alcoholism and other substance use disorders. This association was strongest in those who underwent RYGB. (11)

Study Results

Study findings revealed a strong link between undergoing RYGB surgery and developing alcohol misuse problems later. Moreover, nearly 21% or 1-in-5 RYGB patients developed alcohol-related issues within five years of the surgery. (5) In addition, the study revealed RYGB patients were nearly twice as likely as those who underwent the LAGB (11.3%) to exhibit symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, which was measured using AUDIT. (6)

Furthermore, of those participants free from alcohol misuse in the year before the procedure (versus the seven-year follow-up), RYGB patients were more than twice as likely as LAGB patients to develop alcoholism. (7)

Why Is RYGB Linked to Heavy Alcohol Use?

The researchers could not explain precisely what mechanisms are associated with RYGB and an increased risk of alcoholism so much more than other procedures. However, a 2013 study found RYGB may increase the level of alcohol in the bloodstream faster and higher than other weight loss procedures. (8)

Researchers from the 2017 study also speculated that RYGB might increase tolerance by manipulating hormones that control the brain’s reward circuits. Another reason may be that, due in part to a dopamine-related genetic deficiency, patients are unwittingly trading a food addiction for an alcohol addiction. (9)

Owing to these findings, authors concluded that “education, screening, evaluation, and treatment referral [for alcohol use disorder] should be incorporated in pre- and postoperative care.” (10)

In addition to the 2013 study, a systematic review of approximately 49,000 bariatric surgery patients discovered a link between bariatric surgery and alcoholism and other substance use disorders. This association was strongest in those who underwent RYGB. (11)

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No specific cause has been established that explains why certain bariatric procedures are associated with later alcohol use. However, research suggests the link may be due to a combination of factors known or unknown. At Guardian Recovery, we believe these obstacles can be overcome with the proper professional care, support, and resources. Our holistic approach to treatment includes medical detox, individual therapy, relapse prevention, aftercare planning, and much more.

If you’re struggling with an alcohol use disorder you suspect is related to bariatric surgery, our skilled clinicians and support staff can help you heal. We provide dual-diagnosis treatment that addresses co-occurring alcohol addiction and underlying physical or mental health conditions. If you’re ready to begin your recovery journey, contact us today to speak with an experienced Treatment Advisor. You can take advantage of a free, no-obligation assessment and health insurance benefits check and learn more about our comprehensive treatment programs and customized plans.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7057935/ (2) https://www.soard.org/article/S1550-7289(19)31160-8/fulltext (3)(4)(7)(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568472/ (5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568472/ (6) https://auditscreen.org/ (8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4487806/ (9) https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/381428 (10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4487806/ (11) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33933262/ (12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9249077/ (13) https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/90-98.htm (14) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40519-019-00760-2 (15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4025698/ (16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922864/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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