Clinical Case: Why Avoid Alcohol After Weight Loss Surgery

Dr. Christopher McGowan
November 28, 2022

The prevalent use of alcohol in American society is often tied to social and family relationships, gatherings, and celebrations. Many people also use alcohol for relaxation or to unwind after a long day. A 2021 poll by Gallup, Inc., showed that 60 percent of American adults drink alcoholic beverages and consume an average of 3.6 drinks every seven days. Yet, when it comes to embarking on a weight loss journey, many experts agree that alcohol can have numerous negative effects.

There are many reasons why True You Weight Loss recommends abstaining from alcohol use during the first six to 12 months after a weight loss procedure, a recommendation that is aligned with guidelines from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Aside from filling your body with empty calories, alcohol can numb inhibitions, damage sleep patterns, and increase stress levels—all of which are factors that must be managed wisely in order to support weight loss. Here is a breakdown of why you should “just say no” to alcohol use following a weight loss procedure.

  • Increased Intoxication – Any time you lose weight, your body develops a decreased tolerance for alcohol. After a weight loss procedure, alcohol may be metabolized differently and, therefore, lead to an increased effect of intoxication—the result of blood alcohol levels rising at a faster rate and staying at higher levels for a longer period of time. Being unprepared for your body’s new response to alcohol can be disruptive, and even harmful, to healthy habits and your post-procedure lifestyle plan.
  • Loss of Inhibitions – With increased intoxication also comes a loss or numbing of inhibitions. This can cause you to eat more or say yes to unhealthy food indulgences that you would typically avoid.
  • Too Many Empty Calories – Alcohol itself is high in calories that have little to no nutritional value. Consuming excess, useless calories through alcoholic beverages will almost certainly work against your weight loss efforts.
  • Poor Quality of Sleep – Consistently getting a good night’s rest is imperative to weight loss success.  However, alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to poor sleep quality and shorter durations of sleep. Studies have also shown that sleep deprivation can influence you to eat more food and make it more difficult to resist junk food temptations.
  • More Stress – With fatigue also comes a rise in stress, and stress is another factor that works against weight loss goals. Stress levels rise when stress hormones, such as cortisol, surge. Increased levels of cortisol have been scientifically linked to weight gain.  Not only that, but the correct balance of hormones also plays an essential role in the healthy functioning of the body’s tissues and organs—this harmony is important to weight loss as well.
  • Transfer Addiction – Prior to a weight loss procedure, patients with excess weight tend to have more psychological disorders than those who fall into the healthy body weight population. Therefore, these patients may be more susceptible to developing an alcohol use disorder. It has been hypothesized by some studies that there may be a risk of “transfer of addiction” from food to alcohol after a bariatric surgery or procedure. The thought is that the same neurotransmitters that affect our experience of pleasure are impacted by both food and alcohol alike. However, other studies show that alcohol use is decreased after bariatric surgery, no matter the type. Further research is needed to investigate the connection between increased alcohol use disorder and bariatric surgery. Meanwhile, it is important to be aware of the potential risk.

Staying Strong & Committed, Post-Procedure

After a weight loss procedure, the work for any patient has really only just begun. While this process can be challenging, the new, post-operative habits and behaviors to which patients are able to commit are critical to their weight loss success. Therefore, True You Weight Loss encourages all patients to err on the side of caution and abstain from using alcohol for 6-12 months after any procedure. Water enhanced with pieces of fruit or a splash of juice, and low-calorie beverages, are much better choices. If you want to get creative, your True You Weight Loss dietitian can even provide some healthy “mocktail” recipes to get you through this transition period. Every little bit helps when working to achieve better health and life-changing weight loss success!

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan
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