After Gastric Bypass: Drunk Faster?
Study Shows Patients Who Have Weight Loss Surgery May Need to Drink Carefully
Interpretations of the Study
Based on the study findings, gastric bypass patients "are not
metabolizing alcohol the same way and not feeling the same way [as the
nonsurgery participants]," Morton tells WebMD.
The finding, he says, may explain why some experts have observed, and feared
-- that those who undergo bypass surgery might experience "addiction
transfer," in which they trade the addiction of binge eating, an issue for
many gastric bypass surgery patients, for an alcohol addiction.
"This might account for some people becoming addicted to alcohol [after
bypass surgery]," Morton tells WebMD. "They may have to drink more to
get the same effect."
Physiologically, he says, there are explanations, too. The levels of a key
enzyme for metabolizing alcohol, called alcohol dehydrogenase, decline because
of the much smaller stomach size after gastric bypass surgery. Gastric
bypass and other weight loss surgeries reduce the stomach's capacity to a few
ounces. "This is probably why the alcohol peaks higher and stays
higher," Morton says.
Why the patients aren't feeling more symptoms is not known, he adds.
"Alcohol is not calorie-free, of course," Morton reminds his
patients. "A glass of wine has 125 calories. The other thing that happens
when you drink alcohol is it relaxes you both outside and inside -- your
esophagus and stomach also relax, and that allows you to eat more."
"I tell my patients to be careful with alcohol, and if they drink to do
so at home or to have a designated driver," Morton says.
"This study supports our observations," says Philip Schauer, MD,
president of the American Society for Bariatric Surgery and director of the
Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at Cleveland Clinic. "Because we are
reducing stomach capacity, food and liquor move rapidly into the intestines for
This study does not prove that alcohol problems are more likely among
bariatric patients, says Neil Hutcher, MD, immediate past president of the
society and director of bariatric surgery at Bonsecour St. Mary’s Hospital in
Richmond, Va. "This study does not in any way address whether
increased blood levels of alcohol or the magnitude of them has anything to do
with alcohol addiction or the transference of food dependence to alcohol
dependence,” he says.
More than 177,000 people in the U.S. had gastric bypass or other forms of
bariatric or weight loss surgery in 2006, according to estimates from the
Society. In consultations with his patients about what to expect after surgery,
Schauer says, "I usually tell them, 'One beer will feel like two.'"