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Does weight loss surgery raise your risk of alcohol problems?

More people who have weight loss surgery have alcohol problems after their operation compared to before they have surgery, a new study shows.
By Kathy Oxtoby

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?

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Weight loss surgery, or bariatric surgery, is an operation to make your stomach smaller. This can help you eat less and lose weight. It is a way to treat people who are very overweight, and tends to lead to long-lasting weight loss. This type of surgery is also likely to help you if you are overweight and have other health problems, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

People who have had weight loss surgery can't eat in the same way they did before. After the operation you have to eat much smaller amounts, and you may have stomach problems including nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, indigestion, and heartburn.

Some studies have suggested that weight loss surgery can change how some people are affected by alcohol. These studies suggested that some people who had weight loss surgery had problems with alcohol, such as drinking excessively. Some people also reported that alcohol had more of an effect on them after their operation, and that they took longer to 'sober up' after drinking. But these were a very few, small, anecdotal studies, and more research is needed to support these findings.

So researchers looked at whether having weight loss surgery increased people's risk of developing alcohol problems.

Their study included 2,458 adults who had weight loss surgery. People taking part in the study took a test to find out whether they had problems with alcohol before they had weight loss surgery. They repeated the test one and then two years after their operation. The researchers then compared how many people had problems with alcohol before and after having weight loss surgery.

What does the new study say?

There was only a small rise in the number of people who had problems with alcohol one year after their operation. About 8 in 100 people had alcohol problems after weight loss surgery, compared to 7 in 100 people who had alcohol problems before surgery.

However, when the researchers looked at the test results for this same group of people two years after their operation, they found that more people had alcohol problems. About 10 in 100 people who had weight loss surgery had alcohol problems two years after the operation.

In people who had not had problems with alcohol before their surgery, more than half (61 in every 100 people) said they were drinking more, or that their problems with alcohol were worse two years after their operation.

The researchers also found that the people who had a certain type of weight loss operation, called a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, were most likely to have problems with alcohol after surgery. But this may have been because this was one of the more common types of operation.

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