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Of the discoveries made in the field of bariatric medicine over the past year including that gastric bypass places type 2 diabetes in remission immediately after surgery in more than half of those who undergo the procedure, the study grabbed by headlines is that of a small increase in post-operative alcohol abuse.
Bariatric surgery doesn’t cause alcoholism as the dramatic headlines tout, this surgery just happens to be performed on a population that carries a lot of emotional baggage. For many, obesity or morbid obesity is the outward symptom of something deeper; when paired with the fact that alcohol is absorbed at nearly full proof as there is little or no stomach digestion you’ve got an ominous combination of circumstances.
Of course there’s a link between gastric bypass surgery and an increase in alcoholism; its having weighed three-hundred pounds and discovering after losing all that weight that you’ve missed out on so many years of life. The morbidly obese are often socially isolated. Those who medically qualify for a bariatric procedure are often the ones who stayed home on prom night, did not date or have many friends, or live for weekend frat parties, while others the same age were testing boundaries and gathering emotional maturity. Once the weight comes off many pick up where their social development stopped and the result is a lot of suddenly slim grown-ups going through a delayed adolescence. The problem is that the physical element of the surgery makes the patient more sensitive to alcohol and it can be dangerous.
However, telling those who have weight loss surgery that they can never drink alcohol works as well as it does with teens. Pontificating about alcohol abstinence is not going to handle the situation – therapy and support to provide the needed emotional surgery for the difficult life changes faced by those having a bariatric procedure may be a better approach given that this population also carries higher rates of depression and suicide.
Years ago, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a facial plastic surgeon was inspired to move from treating outer scars to inner scars after seeing many patients’ continuing to have feelings of unhappiness, unworthiness as well as personal insecurities that were not cured from surgery, even though they and Dr. Maltz believed they would feel happy when he gave them the perfect new faces they desired.
These observations give clarity and correlate to the bariatric experience, as losing one hundred and fifty pounds does not fix a bad marriage or unravel childhood sexual abuse. To the contrary, it often brings the real issues to the forefront – which is why it’s time to weave the strong support and therapy nets to help those who undergo this increasingly popular surgery that is moving across the world through even younger populations.
Susan Maria Leach is the author of Before & After – Living & Eating Well After Weight Loss Surgery (HarperCollins Publishing 2012, 07, 04 iTunes & BarnesandNoble.com), both a memoir and a cookbook – an intimate account of Leach’s own transformation as well as a guide for those who have undergone or are considering the procedure. As Susan Maria has learned in the many years since her own 2001 RNY procedure, weight loss surgery is not an event with a finish line or a goal weight – it is the beginning of a new way of life.
Susan Maria founded BariatricEating.com in 2004 and has developed Believe and Inspire Protein Drinks and Journey Bariatric Vitamins, brands that have helped many thousands cope with pre-op requirements. She has served as an officer for the Corporate Council of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery.