Alcohol After WLS
What You Need To Know
by Connie Stapleton, PhD
“My surgeon's office repeatedly told us ‘No alcohol for a year’,” Debbie from NY shared in response to OH Magazine’s inquiry about how alcohol affects people after they have WLS. In addition, members were asked how alcohol affected their post-op weight loss. Debbie went on to share her physician’s reasons for his recommendation. First, alcohol can irritate the newly created pouch. Secondly, her doctor informs her that alcohol has an exaggerated effect on patients after surgery, noting that one drink has the equivalent effect of four drinks. Finally, alcohol, he teaches, is nothing more than empty calories with no nutritional value. Debbie said, “With all that we are trying to accomplish with weight loss, why take in more than you really need?”
Although Debbie may not drink, the majority of post-ops, based on those who responded, do consume alcohol after WLS. In addition, almost all of them concurred that alcohol affects them much more quickly than it did before having weight loss surgery. The specific procedure doesn’t seem to matter in terms of rapid intoxication.
“I have found that since my DS, I get intoxicated very quickly. On the flip side, I also sober up very quickly -- in less than an hour. I've never gotten a hangover since my DS, even after really pushing the limits one night,” Valerie shared. Regarding alcohol’s impact on her weight loss, she said, “I don't drink but a few times a year, so I can't testify on any effects on weight loss. Cheers!” Katydidit experiences a similar phenomenon. “I wondered if it was just me or if everyone experienced the quick onset and just-as-quick-over-it of alcohol.” After a particularly cheerful holiday party, when she found herself “the life of the party”, Katy said, “Needless to say, now when I feel the need to indulge I stick to the half glass rule!”
Carol F. shares her personal experience, “ I had my sleeve done 19 months ago. I did go out and have one glass of wine and then did a shot of Schnapps. Thank goodness I was with friends as they had to take care of me because it was like shooting the Schnapps directly into my veins and I was gone. The absorption was that fast. Big lesson learned.” Patty, too, apparently learned a similar lesson. “Now that I'm a year out, 1 to 1 1/2 glasses of wine and I'm ASLEEP! No good for nothin... Before surgery I could drink a small bottle of wine by myself....those days are over - THANK GOD!”
Barry agrees about feeling the effects of alcohol very quickly since having his RNY. He said, “Alcohol hits me fast and furious. I get buzzed quickly, then I stop drinking and sober up just as fast and furiously. That is why I don’t consume alcohol too often.” Robin, who also had RNY, commented, “Everything in moderation....moderation for RNYer's is less than normal” when it pertains to alcohol consumption."
There are some people, like Jaime, who have dramatic changes in how alcohol affects them after they have had a weight loss procedure. “After WLS alcohol has affected me three times as much as it did before. The biggest difference is, when I get intoxicated now, I don't remember anything. I can have a glass of wine and feel it instantly. It's like the alcohol is being injected instantly in the blood stream.”
Professionals agree that WLS can impact the rate at which alcohol is absorbed, altering the effect is has on a person. The American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons (ASMBS) reported that “with some bariatric surgeries, alcohol is more rapidly absorbed after surgery.” Researchers in Sweden studied the absorption of ethanol and alcohol concentration in women after gastric bypass surgery. They noted “The higher sensitivity to ethanol after gastric bypass surgery probably reflects the more rapid absorption of ethanol,” and “The marked reduction in body weight after the operation might also be a factor” in the more rapid onset of the effects of alcohol following WLS.
Hangovers seem to affect some people, but not others. Nicole from North Dakota, who had RNY “loves wine”, but “if I drink too much, as occasionally happens on a weekend, it affects me for the whole next day. I will feel fine one moment, then an hour later, will feel like I am drunk again.” She believes that “alcohol is dangerous for RNY patients because it goes straight to the blood and liver. I do see how the cross addiction is easy to fall into.”
Dumping after drinking is a problem for some people. “I can't drink wine at all because it makes me dump,” P1pnet stated. “I switched to liquor and sometimes I can have a couple drinks and it is like I drank nothing and other times, the same amount of alcohol makes me plastered. I don't know what the difference is. I actually don't seem to get as hung over as I used to. I have to watch it because I don't know how alcohol is going to affect me.”
“I can't drink much beer any more”, JFish offered, noting “the fizz in my pouch” makes drinking beer cause too much discomfort. He still drinks now and then, but currently consumes “Canadian whiskey.” J said he feels the effects of the alcohol “almost instantaneously. It's like drinking on an empty stomach back in the pre-op days. I can no longer differentiate between a one drink buzz and a six drink buzz. So I have to monitor pretty closely. I don't drink often enough to affect weight loss or maintenance.” Beer didn’t sit well with Loiswinkel, either, since she had WLS. “I’m a former beer drinker, but I no longer consume it because the effects are painful. I have now switched to wine. I am good with two glasses of wine in a 1-1/2 to 2 hour period, but any more than that, and I am walking home.” She said it may be “common sense, age, intelligence, or whatever, but I refuse to put any more than that into my body at any given time. It's just not worth it.”
For some OH members, drinking is no longer enjoyable; for others it’s not an option at all. “WLS has completely taken any enjoyment out of alcohol for me. I drink about an inch off a martini and I'm slurring my words. 30 minutes later, I'm stone-cold sober. I can't find that middle ground of mellow,” Macdame pointed out. Nodakgal does not intend to find out what happens by consuming alcohol. “In all the education I received pre-op, I was told not to drink alcohol as it will be absorbed very quickly and the blood alcohol level rises quickly, making a person over the legal limit after 1-2 drinks. I don't plan on testing this theory.”
Approximately 25% of people who have WLS develop a problem with alcohol. Harvard Health Publications notes, “Surgery may change the rate at which alcohol is absorbed, which may increase the risk of dependence in people who are vulnerable to becoming addicted.” OH Member Tacomadragon, believes people who have had WLS have “no reason to drink socially. If you are around people who think less of you for not soaking your pouch in alcohol, find some new companions,” he suggests, adding, “Alcohol damages organs (including your brain) and dehydrates you. People who have had WLS don't need to be dehydrated! If you are maintaining your weight loss, hooray for you! Why would you risk adding empty calories that don't enhance your health?”
Debbie’s surgeon recommended abstaining from alcohol for a year.” My surgeon only advised me to abstain for 30 days and said then if you like to have a drink once in awhile, the occasional beverage will not hinder weight loss,” Greenpunchbuggie from NJ said. Whatever you were told pre-op about consuming alcohol after your procedure, it seems advisable to heed the advice of the professionals at surgicalteam.com who inform that “It is advisable to be careful with alcohol-containing beverages after surgery,” noting that “Alcohol in any form is rich in calories and easy to take. Large intake of alcohol is therefore contrary to the aim of the operation.”
If you choose to consume alcohol after WLS, be sure to have a designated driver. It is clear that most people experience the effects of alcohol more quickly and intensely after their procedure. Be cautious and drink minimally as you learn how alcohol will affect you. If you are drinking to cope with unpleasant emotions that arise following WLS, do as Tabbyfree did and go to counseling. “I learned how to ‘cope’ with my emotional eating by going to therapy for two years in preparation of having my surgery,” she said. If you are using alcohol to help you cope with life after your procedure, Tacomadragon suggests you find a healthier way: “There must be at least a dozen harmless ways to cope - i.e., make yourself more comfortable, deal with problems, learn to like yourself, work up the nerve to do whatever you are afraid to do - without a drink. Granted they make take more effort than pouring a drink…” You are worth that effort. Therefore, if you find yourself using alcohol to “feel better” or to “deal with life” then stop drinking and get professional help.
A drink containing alcohol does contain nothing but empty calories. None of the OH members mentioned anything negative about weight regain or failure to lose weight in relation to their consumption of alcoholic beverages. If, however, a person drinks too much too often, those empty calories would likely translate to added pounds.
If you drink, do so sparingly, never drive, and don’t use alcohol to try to fix unpleasant feelings. As the commercials say, “Drink responsibly.”
Click here to read more OH Member comments and experiences with Alcohol after WLS.
Connie Stapleton, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and owner of Mind/Body Health Services in Augusta, Georgia
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