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Do Weight-Loss Ops Increase Alcoholism Risk?

Gastric bypass recipients experience alcohol differently, researchers say.

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Patients may not be aware of this surgery risk.
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By Valerie Tejeda

06/19/12

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Patients who receive stomach surgery to lose weight are at higher risk for alcohol abuse, according to a new study—a conclusion that seemingly contradicts some previous research. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh surveyed 2,000 bariatric surgery patients about their drinking, both 30 days before surgery and once again up to two years after. Of those surveyed, 70% received gastric bypass surgery, 25% lap band surgery, and 5% other, less common weight-loss surgeries. Alcohol disorders among the gastric bypass patients were found to increase nearly 50% following the procedure, while lap band patients had little-to-no increase in alcohol abuse. “There have been several studies showing if you give gastric bypass patients a standard amount of alcohol, they reach a higher peak alcohol level, they reach the level more quickly, and they take longer to return to a sober statethey’re experiencing alcohol differently after surgery,” says lead researcher Mary King of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. “So we weren’t entirely surprised to find a significant increase. It could be a combination of the change in alcohol sensitivities coupled with higher levels of drinking.” As for this study's significance: “This is really something that needs to be a part of patients’ discussions with their surgeonsbut as just one of the potential risks in the context of all potential risks and benefits of surgery,” King continues. “The study shouldn’t be used to suggest that gastric bypass surgery isn’t a good weight loss strategy, but it should be used to educate patients.” Another recent University of Cincinnati study found that patients who received gastric bypass surgery had reduced cravings for booze following the procedure, for hormonal reasons.

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