Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

Alcohol Awareness Month: Alcoholism and the Bariatric Patient

Apr 30, 2017

By Misty Harris, LCDC, SAP, NCAC, DWI-E
Nicholson Clinic Bariatric Patient

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. Bariatric patients are at higher risk of problems associated with alcohol consumption, including DWI and addiction. Let’s take a closer look at the dangers of alcohol for the bariatric patient.

What is alcoholism? Alcoholism is defined as continued excessive or compulsive use of alcoholic drink and/or a chronic disorder marked by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction. Why is this important to the bariatric patient? We have heard from our doctors do not drink alcohol after surgery. How many have listened to that advice? Did your doctor or nutritionist explain why? Unfortunately like some other advice that we get we do not listen, we learn the hard way.

Why is it so important to not consume alcohol after bariatric surgery? When you have bariatric surgery, what is left for a stomach is very small. Bariatric surgery results in alcohol moving much more quickly from the stomach into the small intestine. Eighty percent of alcohol is absorbed in the small intestine. Bariatric surgery results in a much higher peak BAC (blood alcohol content) than with the equivalent amount of alcohol consumed before the surgery. What kind or how much alcohol you consumed before surgery no longer matters. Following weight loss surgery, you can find yourself intoxicated after just half a glass of wine.

The number of DWI arrests has increased with bariatric patients over the last ten years. According to a recent study conducted with a controlled group of bariatric and non-bariatric patients, the bariatric patient had a greater peak alcohol level. To the surprise of many, the bariatric BAC was above .08 while the non-bariatric was around .05 with the same amount of alcohol and time. This is a 40 percent increase of alcohol absorption.

The DWI legal limit in the State of Texas is a BAC of .08 and/or not having normal use of mental or physical faculties because of alcohol or drugs. It is possible for anyone to be stopped and receive a DWI. If you are a bariatric patient and believe you can consume more alcohol, you are more likely to receive a DWI. The BAC calculators that many use do not calculate for bariatric surgeries. Do not depend on them.

What is also happening is that some individuals have the bariatric surgery to appear more attractive instead of for health and wellness gain. While there is nothing wrong with the outcome of feeling more attractive, health and wellness must be the key focus. It has been researched and documented that when you do not address the issues of the food addiction in the past, you may start using alcohol to cope with the problems. The addiction transference is more prevalent in bariatric patients. It is very important to address any issues you have regarding food. If you have used food to cope with your feelings and are no longer able to eat, what are you going to turn to? You can be faced with the decision of eating 500 calories and still feeling miserable or drinking 500 calories and not feeling anything. What would you chose?

Please do not feel discouraged. You are not in this alone. Continue your follow-up care and speak open and honestly to your doctor. They are there to help and guide you, not to judge. Please do not feel discouraged to reach out for help. There are many qualified professionals that can help guide you. The Nicholson Clinic will refer you to a professional that can guide you in the right direction. We are all just a phone call away.

About the Author
Misty Harris is a practicing, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC), Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) and First Offender DWI Educator in the State of Texas. She has been practicing for over 10 years. She currently works in Collin County for Life Management Resources and is an independent educator with Achieve Counseling and Education Services. Misty is also a bariatric patient from the Nicholson Clinic and had weight loss surgery on April 20, 2015. She can be reached at 469-795-1571.