Can Weight-Loss Surgery Lead to Alcoholism? [VIDEO]
There's no denying that gastric bypass can be an effective way to treat morbid obesity, but new research suggests the surgery may actually increase the risk of alcoholism, as well.
Conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the study shows that people who have Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery -- where the stomach is reduced in size and the intestine is shortened -- are more likely to suffer from alcohol abuse, especially in the second post-operative year.
In fact, the study found a 3.7 percent increase in alcoholism-related symptoms in 2,000 people after they had the surgery. Researchers say the surgery actually increases alcohol sensitivity, which can in turn lead to dependence.
"A gastric bypass patient has a small pouch [for a stomach] so alcohol goes straight into the intestine and is absorbed rapidly," said Dr. Mitchell Roslin, a weight-loss surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "When it is absorbed rapidly, there is a high peak and rapid fall."
And since those with gastric bypass are able to metabolize alcohol faster, this means they can drink more over a longer period of time. "It wears off so quickly so you can keep going and going," said Andrew Kahn, who became an alcoholic after having the surgery in 2003.
Still, doctors point out that gastric bypass is a powerful method for treating obesity, and they caution prospective patients against avoiding the procedure.
"Given that the increased rates of alcohol use disorders post-operatively are equivalent to what is seen in the general population, it shouldn't be a reason to avoid a life-saving procedure," said Dr. Leslie Heinberg, a director at the Cleveland Clinic medical center. "Rather, it points to the importance of education, informed consent and continued monitoring."