After having bariatric surgery, patients face many major lifestyle changes. They can no longer eat the way they did prior to surgery, nor can they drink liquid with their meals. They must exercise and take supplements for the rest of their life to maintain their health. Patients may have unexpected side effects due to their weight loss and this article is going to talk about one such side effect that you may experience if you have bariatric surgery. You may not ever be able to drink or tolerate alcohol again.
Bariatric Surgery and Alcohol Consumption
Many people enjoy having a beer at a ball game or a glass of wine out with their friends. This in itself is not an issue and you have probably enjoyed these in the past. Because you know yourself the best, you probably know how different types of alcohol; beer, wine, mixed drinks, etc normally affect you. You may be surprised to learn that after certain types of bariatric surgery it’s a whole new experience. It is like going back in time to a place where you have never had a drink in your life. To understand why this happens, let’s talk about how the body processes alcohol before surgery.
What Factors Affect Alcohol Absorption before Weight Loss Surgery?
When you consume an alcoholic beverage, it goes down into your stomach, and then it travels to the small bowel area where it is absorbed into your bloodstream. Very little alcohol is absorbed directly by your stomach and the speed at which it travels through the digestive system varies depending on several factors. Alcohol will process slower on a fuller stomach and is absorbed more rapidly if you drink on an empty stomach.
A study that was conducted on the metabolism of alcohol in the body reported that the percentage of alcohol concentration affects how rapidly the body absorbs alcohol. If you drink alcohol with a 20-30% concentration rate on an empty stomach it is going to process faster than if you drink a beer that has a 3-8% concentration level.
The same study also revealed that drinks that are carbonated like champagne are absorbed into the system faster but eating carbohydrates while drinking alcohol slows down the absorption into the body. The effects of alcohol also vary by gender, weight, medications, and can even affect women differently depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle phase!
How the Body Processes Alcohol before Surgery
Alcohol sits in the stomach and is partially broken down by a specific enzyme that is naturally present, then after some time, it is slowly released to the small bowel where it is absorbed. The small bowel is the same organ that absorbs the nutrients that our body needs to function. The small bowel absorbs the partially processed alcohol (a bit diluted) and sends it over to the bloodstream through the many capillaries that make up its lining. When bariatric surgery such as a gastric bypass takes place, everything about the usual way the body processes alcohol changes.
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Drinking Alcohol after Bariatric Surgery
After bariatric surgery, the patient’s body does not metabolize alcohol the way it did before surgery. Most weight loss surgery consists of restrictive and malabsorptive techniques. In most cases between 70 and 80% of the stomach is removed (restrictive) which limits the amount of space in the stomach. During gastric bypass surgery, there are alterations made to the stomach as well as the digestive system shortening the path between the stomach and the end of the small intestine. (malabsorptive).
Alcohol after Gastric Bypass Surgery
After a gastric bypass, the smaller stomach size can no longer hold the alcohol, to allow some of it to digest or mix with food, slowing down its release into the small bowel. The digestive system has also been altered making it much shorter. So, in essence, alcohol comes in and is pretty much absorbed full strength into the bloodstream. There have been cases where bariatric surgery patients have gotten drunk on only a few sips of alcohol. Not only does the patient feel the effects of alcohol faster, but it takes longer for the alcohol to get out of their system than before their gastric bypass surgery.
Alcohol after Gastric Sleeve Surgery
Patients who have had gastric sleeve surgery, even though they have not had the alterations to their intestines, are still affected by alcohol due to their limited stomach capacity. The stomach enzymes that aid in breaking down alcohol have been significantly reduced and therefore, the small bowel is still being delivered alcohol at full strength.
How Long after Bariatric Surgery Can You Drink Alcohol?
After having bariatric surgery, patients are on a very strict diet. Many people also have weight-related health issues. Drinking alcohol does not provide any nutritional value and more than likely will sabotage your weight loss regime. It can also interfere with blood sugar levels or interact with medications currently being taken by the patient. The first 12 months post-surgery is full of many changes including rapid weight loss and varied physical changes so using alcohol is strongly discouraged until at least after that first year.
Weight Loss Surgery and Alcoholism
The University Of Pittsburgh conducted a study of patients who had gastric bypass surgery and found that there is a possibility of an individual becoming an alcoholic within a few years after bariatric surgery even if they have no prior history of alcohol abuse.
Previously alcohol addiction after weight loss surgery was attributed to so-called addiction transfer. According to this theory, many bariatric patients had an addiction to food prior to surgery that was replaced post-op with an addiction to something else, e.g. alcohol. However, the theory has been refuted as it doesn’t explain why alcoholism occurs 2-3 years after gastric bypass surgery.
The reason behind increased postoperative risks of alcohol disorder is the changes in alcohol absorption and metabolism. Gastric bypass patients become more sensitive to alcohol. Alcohol passes through the system more quickly allowing them to drink more.
Like many other big changes experienced by weight loss surgery patients, drinking alcohol will affect you much differently than before.
To Drink or not to Drink after Weight Loss Surgery
Each patient is unique and some people tend to be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than others, even before bariatric surgery. Whether you decide to play it safe and give up alcohol forever or are going to try it, just remember that bariatric surgery drastically changes how your body processes alcohol and it is beyond your control.
If you do decide to drink alcohol after having weight loss surgery, take every precaution to mitigate risks. Be self-aware of how you are being affected, do not consume too much, too fast, and wait between sips to monitor how your system is handling it. Most of all, do not drive, ever. You may think you are ok, but a rapid decline can follow and could be tragic.
If you have questions about bariatric surgery, please set up a consultation with an expert at IBI Healthcare Institute. At IBI, we take a partnered approach to weight loss and offer patients ongoing support throughout their journey. During your consultation, you will learn which weight loss options are available to you and your questions and concerns will be addressed. Contact us today and take that first step towards a new healthier you!