Drinking Alcohol After Bariatric Surgery

By: Jessica Basso; RN, BSN

For individuals that have undergone bariatric surgery specifically the gastric bypass and the sleeve gastrectomy the effects of alcohol can be stronger and faster. You may feel the effects from drinking much sooner than you would prior to having surgery because our bodies change and so will the way that your body metabolizes alcohol.

Alcohol is partially metabolized in the stomach, after it reaches the stomach it travels to the small intestine where it is more fully absorbed into the blood stream. If you have an empty stomach you can feel the effects much quicker because it takes the alcohol less time to travel through the stomach into the intestines. If you have a full stomach it takes the alcohol longer to reach the small intestine. With the gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy the stomach size is significantly reduced and will take the alcohol much less time to get to the intestines.

With the bypass you may feel the effects more rapidly because in addition to the stomach being smaller, a portion of the small intestine is being bypassed so alcohol enters the bloodstream almost as if it was injected by a needle. Once in our blood stream, it will circulate in the blood for a while and travel to various areas in the body like the liver and the brain. Once in the liver the alcohol is broken down and your body treats it like fat. An enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase converts the metabolic by-products of alcohol into fatty acids. These may be stored in the liver or transported for storage in other tissues. Which is why regular drinkers may commonly develop what we know as the “beer belly.” Now let’s talk about what happens when it gets to our brain. Once in the brain the feeling of being intoxicated develops, you lose sense of judgement and reaction time, followed by many other more serious functions that are disrupted or inhibited altogether.

Aside from the physical dangers of being inebriated quicker, alcohol can sabotage weight loss efforts and contribute to weight gain. Alcohol is a carbohydrate with NO nutritional value, so not only is alcohol an empty calorie, but frequent daily use is toxic to the body and organs. When ingested, it enters the mouth, through the esophagus, then makes it way to the stomach. Regular consumption increases the risk of ulcers developing in the stomach. The risk of stomach or esophageal cancer also increases, along with the death of brain cells. In fact, alcohol is casually related to more than 60 medical conditions when consumed frequently.

Drinking alcohol after surgery or in general is not conducive to optimal health. It’s highly discouraged the first year after surgery due to the negative side effects. If you chose to drink after surgery, please drink responsibly. Remember after surgery, the effects of alcohol are heightened so one beverage can feel like multiple, possibly putting you over the limit.

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