An Important Weight-Loss Side Effect Everyone Needs to Be Aware Of

People who undergo bariatric surgery, one of the most popular weight-loss surgical procedures, have an important side effect to be aware of: It could put them at risk for an alcohol problem.

Photo: Jamie Chung /Trunk Archive

According to a new study published in the journal Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, one in five patients who had bariatric surgery showed symptoms of alcohol-use disorder within five years of undergoing the procedure. For the study, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences analyzed data from 2,348 men and women who underwent either gastric bypass surgery, which makes a person’s stomach smaller, or laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, where a band is used to create a small pouch in a person’s stomach to hold food.

Researchers discovered that patients who had gastric bypass surgery were at twice the risk of developing an alcohol problem as those who underwent laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding. As a result, scientists recommend education, screening, and evaluation for alcohol-use disorders in pre- and postoperative care for people undergoing weight-loss surgery.

Lead study author Wendy King, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, tells Yahoo Beauty that the findings are important because alcohol consumption may affect a person’s ability to maintain his or her weight, or cause vitamin deficiencies, dehydration, or alcoholic liver disease.

Peter LePort, MD, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Center for Obesity at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., who didn’t participate in the study, tells Yahoo Beauty that he’s not shocked by the findings. “It’s not surprising that these patients develop another obsessive-compulsive symptom because many people use their eating as a substitute for some problem that they’re not dealing with,” he says. “As soon as the food is taken away from them — and many patients call food their ‘best friend’ — they switch to another problem. Alcohol happens to be an easy one.” King notes that previous research has shown that gastric bypass surgery increases alcohol reward sensitivity in patients and also may cause patients to absorb alcohol more quickly.

LePort says this is such a concern that his practice has a warning on its weight-loss-surgery consent form about alcohol. “You don’t want to trade one problem for a worse problem,” he says.

While the research focuses on the risk of developing an alcohol problem after weight-loss surgery, LePort says it’s possible that it may also apply to people who just lose five or 10 pounds without surgical intervention — especially if they formerly used food as a coping mechanism. “Certainly, it could be somewhat of a risk,” he says. New York City-based RD Jessica Cording agrees. She tells Yahoo Beauty that, in general, whenever a big lifestyle change occurs, it can affect other areas of a person’s life and cause him or her to overcompensate in other areas, like substituting alcohol for food.

The biggest way to combat the risk is just to be aware that it exists, LePort says. And if you have a significant other, he recommends flagging this to that person as well, so he or she can remind you — just in case.

Of course, just because you lose weight doesn’t mean you’re going to develop an alcohol problem — the majority of the people in the study didn’t. However, there is a risk, and awareness of it can go a long way toward keeping yourself in check.

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