A couple of strong suggestions for those of you considering a cocktail between now and New Year’s Day.

It is important that we have an open and honest discussion of holiday drinking so we not only know what to expect, but can handle ourselves like ladies and gentlemen and remain safe.

Let’s talk about the bad so at least we all know why drinking is more serious than before we had bariatric surgery – then you can make your informed decision as it pertains to you.

Post Bariatric Drinking

Let’s Get Real
‘Just Say No’ or telling bariatric post ops to completely abstain because it ‘burns’ or to scare them with extreme warnings of alcoholism does not work – it is better that we have an adult level of conversation with the understanding that a high percentage of us are going to have a beverage containing alcohol at some point. Not everyone has deep seated emotional issues or is at risk for ‘transfer addictions’. The fact is that alcoholism is only slightly higher than in a similar non bariatric population. Now, that is not to be ignored, but not everyone who has bariatric surgery becomes an alcoholic, just like in real life.

One year or less, THE ANSWER IS NO! Done.
If you have had your Sleeve or RNY or Lap Band surgery less than a year ago: No Alcohol – no further discussion. Your liver and organs have been under great stress in this first year due to the massive amount of weight you have lost. Waste materials from the fat you are metabolizing are being processed by the liver so it is not advised to add alcohol to the mix. Your surgeon or any other professional will confirm this. You have your entire life ahead of you – don’t drink that first year. Some surgeons are ‘allowing’ alcohol at six months and that’s fine if that is the sentiment of your team. It’s cool and we can all follow this to the letter.

What could possibly go wrong?
If you are more than one year post op and you are thinking about having a drink, understand that we do not digest the alcohol in a ‘big ole handbag of a stomach’ before it passes to the intestines. We have a little bitty pouch and therefore the alcohol dribbles right through it to the intestine where it is absorbed at full proof potency and the effects can be greatly magnified – meaning we can get horribly drunk very quickly. Not just a little tipsy, but incoherent, sloppy, fall down, incapacitated, dangerously drunk. What can happen is not pretty and I have watched a bariatric post-op rushed to the hospital via ambulance at a bariatric event after doing tequila shots with peers. So please take these warnings seriously.

Honey, I’d Like You to Meet My Boss… Boo!
Even if you have been a responsible and experienced social drinker before your surgery, do not experiment in public. I have had people tell me they are planning on having their first post op drink at their wedding and ask what they should sip. I cannot think of a worse time to try alcohol for the first time other than at your own wedding – unless it’s at a class reunion, office Christmas party, or perhaps a spouses award ceremony. If you have made the decision to drink socially, have a few sips of wine at home or a very weak drink that does NOT contain sugared mixers. You may honestly hate the way it makes you feel or you may drop like a rock. I have a bariatric friend who gets very tired after a few sips of a cocktail and then develops a headache. Not fun – so she generally chooses to not drink. She is wonderful and funny without alcohol – so she misses out on nothing by abstaining.

The most important self-imposed rule is to never drink unless you are with someone who you can trust with your life. If you were to get very sick or pass out, you would have to rely on someone to help you as you may be completely disabled by the alcohol. Casual friends, co-workers, or your eHarmony date do not understand the reality of alcohol poisoning to a bariatric patient. I know someone who actually threw up into her glass at a table at a restaurant and then passed out, because her well-meaning friends did not understand that it was dangerous and not kind for them to buy her another drink. Other bariatric friends have drunk dialed me from bathrooms or parking lots of bars at 2am – alone and incoherent. Never put yourself in a situation where you are in danger, but that would be the same if we had not had surgery, yes? (my mother was wise in her teachings)

No Mas Tequila Shooters
No shots EVER – you could die of alcohol poisoning so do not do it. My husband and I run with a tequila loving crowd of friends but I do not drink straight tequila (or any alcohol shots), even when at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, it’s 2am, the band is rockin’, someone decides we’re ‘all’ doing Don Julio shots and I find one in my hand. It is tempting, but this is absolutely non-negotiable. This also means NO FIREBALL SHOTS – you don’t want to hit the floor.

Super Serious Stuff…
Some bariatric post ops develop what some call a transfer addiction; once bariatric surgery renders them unable to eat large volumes of food for comfort they switch to something else and that may be alcohol. If you had a pre-op food ‘compulsion’ and find yourself drinking much more than an occasional cocktail, please seek therapy and get help. There is no shame in therapy. Some folks transfer their food for comfort reliance to shopping, some transfer to sex, some drink, have sex, & shop, but that is a whole different discussion. Transfer addictions seem real for some and I do not minimize the impact for those who destroy their own lives. There is a recent study showing that those who have had a gastric bypass or sleeve do have a higher rate of alcohol problems than with other procedures – those with Lap band were relatively unaffected – which actually means it is not a ‘transfer addiction’ or it would be unilateral for all bariatric surgeries. There is more to this and not all is understood.

Bottom line is to be very aware that the same emotional issues leading some to morbid obesity is what leads others to drink – once eating is not an option, drinking may provide a similar outlet. We know it was never the food, so please, if you switch to alcohol… call us, call someone… get help.

For Those Without Issues, CU@Happy Hour
I do not think that because a small percentage of folks with issues continue to have addiction problems that the rest of us can never have a cocktail at a party for the rest of our lives. I stick up for social drinking and responsible post op use of alcohol. Most of us can enjoy an occasional drink without incident – much like in non bariatric life. I take criticism for my stand on alcohol, even though I have never hidden the fact that I drink. To grandstand about alcohol being bad and take the position that no one should drink after bariatric surgery is totally ignorant to how people function. People party, people drink, people celebrate – we can make believe they don’t, or we can talk about how to make safe choices.

I had bariatric surgery in 2001 and I drink – I have always lived a very social lifestyle that includes alcohol. My husband and I are ‘cocktails and dinner’ kind of people and often end our week by heading to a favorite Happy Hour on Friday afternoon. I am a very responsible and experienced drinker but even so have made a mistake at a party that made me horribly drunk. I was safe though, as I have friends I trust with my life who noticed that I was having a problem. Know what is in YOUR glass and make sure you can trust who you are with in case something goes wrong. Never drink and drive. Again, these are the same warnings that apply whether or not someone has had bariatric surgery.

Frozen margaritas can have 50 to 100 grams of sugar in them. Pina Coladas are even higher. Generally frozen fruity drinks are a huge NO for people who have had obesity surgery. I have a flavored vodka over lots of ice in a tall glass with club soda with a twist of lemon… the ice deflates the carbonation – 100 calories, no sugar, sip slowly. Ditto for wine, tall glass with lots of ice and dilute it with club soda.

Are They Still Called Shirley Temples?
If you have made the decision that you are not going to drink alcohol, walk proudly with your San Pellegrino Water in a Glass with a Maraschino Cherry – walking around a party without a glass is an invitation to well-meaning friends asking repeatedly about your not drinking and them wanting to ‘get you a drink’. If you drink water in a wine glass no one will question you. The cherry identifies it as a cocktail and is festive. No one cares what you are drinking, as long as you are drinking something. Don’t feel pressured – this is not 8th grade – stand down anyone who questions you.

IF you are looking for attention and want to start a little bitty pity party, stand at a Holiday Party without a drink or food in hand! It will take ten minutes, but what a downer. Choose to be happy no matter your decision. 

Any questions? Merry Christmas – Happy New Year. Be safe! Life is Wonderful. If you need help, join our BE Support Group and get back on track. Rather than trying to change old bad habits – let us help you to create NEW better habits. Take Today as your opportunity for a new life!

5 thoughts on “Post-op Drinking. Should We? Tis the Season for Parties.

  1. Dottie says:

    Thank you for this wonderful and to the point article. Greatly appreciated. I’m 5 years out and on rare occasions will have a hard cider. I have a buzz before I even drink the neck of the bottle so I stop. People don’t believe me. This confirms I’m right! 😄

  2. Linda brunelle says:

    I was never more than occasional social drinker. One and I was done. A few years ago I felt like a beer. Well one led to another and another. Before I knew it I was an alcoholic. Unless you have very good friends that are not afraid to say something – don’t start. And be honest with yourself. If you need help, get it.

  3. IB says:

    This is one of my favorite articles written on this site…very good, sound, non-judgmental advice! Thank you!!

    I am a RNY post-op of 7 years, and have been through the journey of learning myself with alcohol. I learned my why and my why nots. Ultimately, after several years and some very honest self evaluation, I’m at a happy and balanced medium.

    I will have a drink with dinner, that is usually an on- the-rocks glass of red or white wine…or if I’m out to dinner, a whiskey or vodka mixed with a bit of pure cranberry juice and lots of ice is nice, or a vodka or Sake’ Bloody Mary at brunch.

    But, I’ve also learned that more than one drink is not really necessary for me, so I’m fine with stopping at one, and my body and mental clarity thank me afterward!

    My life as a bariatric patient is very rewarding. I’ve taken great risks, and made great efforts with my health to get to this point…. and I see and enjoy the succcess. So I honor that by continually learning what to and not to do… and by making choices that make it all so worthwhile. I pray and hope the same for each of us.

    Happy holidays!

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