Alcohol use after weight-loss surgery

Posted by Sharon Alfuth, R.N.
August 07, 2014

Sharon Alfuth, R.N.During rapid periods of weight loss, the liver becomes especially vulnerable to toxins, such as alcohol. Because of the potential for addiction, it is important that you be aware of the risks, signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse after surgery.

  • You may become more vulnerable to increases in drinking or drug-taking following weight loss surgery. There are many possible reasons for this. One reason may be a phenomenon known as addiction swapping — meaning that alcohol or drugs replace the food addiction now that you can no longer eat as much.
  • Alcohol causes stomach irritation and can cause liver disease. You may become intoxicated more quickly and with less alcohol than you did before surgery. Researchers think this may be due to the way the body metabolizes alcohol.
  • Alcoholic beverages are high in empty calories and may cause “dumping syndrome.”

For these reasons, we recommend no alcohol consumption for one year following surgery and very limited use in following years. 

What are symptoms of alcohol abuse?

A few mild symptoms — which you might not see as trouble signs — can signal the start of a drinking problem. It helps to know the signs so you can make a change early. If heavy drinking continues, then over time, the number and severity of symptoms can grow and add up to an alcohol use disorder, generally known as alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Doctors diagnose an alcohol use disorder when a patient’s drinking causes distress or harm. See if you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself. And don’t worry — even if you have symptoms, you can take steps to reduce your risks.

In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn't?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt, such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area or having unsafe sex? 
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious, adding to another health problem or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking, or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends? 
  • Found that drinking or being sick from drinking often interfered with taking care of your home or family, caused job troubles or school problems? 
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you or gave you pleasure in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten arrested, been held at a police station or had other legal problems because of your drinking?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you think you may be developing a problem with alcohol abuse, speak with your primary care physician. You can also find more information at

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