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Popular Weight-Loss Surgeries Increase Risk of Developing Alcohol Disorders

People who have undergone weight-loss surgery have a greater chance of developing alcohol disorders, according to new research released by University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. This is the first study conducted that directly links these procedures and alcoholism.

Patients from ten hospitals across the United States participated in the study. About 70% underwent RYGB, a type of bariatric surgery, while 25% had laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, and the remaining 5% were treated with one of three less popular surgeries.

Wendy King, an assistant professor in the epidemiology department at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, said she was surprised with some of the study's findings.

"It could be that they had a change in alcohol sensitivity from the surgery, and then coupled with the higher drinking levels in the second year, that may be what is responsible for the increase we saw in alcohol use disorders in the second year," King said.

Of the patients surveyed, 7% reported symptoms of increased alcohol disorders in the first year after the surgery. In the second year following the procedure, 10.7% of patients showed more than a 50% increase in symptoms. Those who received the laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding surgery did not show a significant increase in the same symptoms.

King said previous studies have led to findings indicating patients who have had the RYGB operation feel more intoxicated quicker and for longer after consuming less alcohol. One in eight participants reported having three drinks per their typical drinking day in the second year following the surgery.

King said safe levels of alcohol for post-operative patients have yet to be determined. "Hopefully research in the next couple years will really clear up that picture for us and help us determine what, if any, alcohol should be consumed post-bariatric surgery, but in general, any high caloric beverages are discouraged after surgery."

Several factors help to predict whether a patient was at risk for developing alcohol abuse symptoms, such as a lower sense of interpersonal support, smoking, recreational drug use, consumption of alcohol at least twice per week, and prior alcohol use disorders. The study found that men and younger adults are more prone to developing problems with alcohol following surgery.