Obesity can put people at risk, making it impossible for them to get the most out of life, as well as putting them at risk of a number of serious medical condition, including diabetes and heart disease. Those that are morbidly obese will find it almost impossible to lose weight through natural means such as exercise and diet. Gastric (bariatric) surgery has helped many overcome obesity problems but there are very real risks associated with the surgery; it now appears that alcoholism may be one of these risks. Gastric surgery is typically offered only to those with a BMI above 35.
Gastric surgery actually refers to a number of operations used to help individuals lose weight. The most common procedure is the gastric bypass, which involves dividing the stomach into two ‘pouches’ and then re-routing the small intestine so that it connects to both of these pouches. The general idea is that the person ends up with a smaller stomach, meaning that he or she is unable to eat as much as they did previously. The other common type of bariatric surgery is gastric banding, which involves using a band to reduce the size of the stomach.
The fact that gastric surgery changes the size of the stomach also means that it changes the way alcohol is processed. Researchers are now claiming that this could mean that those having undergone the procedure would be at higher risk of developing alcoholism. The problem here is that individuals having gone through this procedure would tend to feel the effects of alcohol much faster – within a few minutes of drinking rather than the usual half an hour or so. This surgery also changes body chemistry – so much so that the person may find intoxication to be far more rewarding.
Previous studies on animals have shown that they tend to drink more after having gastric surgery. There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence from individuals having had the surgery and later starting to drink alcohol more heavily. It now appears almost certain that there is an increased risk of alcoholism following gastric surgery.
Alcoholism refers to a situation where the person has become physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. It is not something that the individual develops overnight. The person will usually have been drinking over a long period and their intake will have been steadily increasing. It is not necessary to reach the stage of alcoholism before suffering serious effects from drinking, but once the person has crossed this line the only real option for them is to quit drinking permanently – it is not possible for a person to drink alcohol ‘normally’ once they have become addicted.
The physical addiction to alcohol occurs due to a process known as tolerance. What happens is that person drinks a certain amount because it makes them feel good, but the body develops a level of tolerance for this quantity – this in turn means that the individual needs to drink more in order to get the same effect. The more a person is drinking, the more negatively it will affect his or her life. Once this line into addiction has been crossed, the person then begin to experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop – this is because the body now needs alcohol in order to function.
Gastric surgery saves lives. Although alcoholism does appear to be a risk with this type of surgery, it does not mean that everyone who undergoes the procedure is likely to become alcoholic. The fact that this risk is known means that individuals can take precautions to avoid it. This could include being very careful around alcohol or avoiding it completely.