The Do’s and Don’ts of Drinking After Bariatric Surgery

Christie Auyeung Weight Loss Leave a Comment

Bariatric surgery changes the way your digestive system works. Part of your stomach may be removed, your intestines re-arranged, or both. As a result, your body will react to food very differently. You’ll have to change your diet post-surgery, and will have to be extra cautious about alcohol in particular.

Doctors recommend avoiding alcohol after bariatric surgery, or drinking very limited quantities if necessary. Why is that? Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening in your body after bariatric surgery.

How Does Drinking Affect Your Body?

After bariatric surgery, patients become more sensitive to alcohol. You’ll get tipsier faster because your body absorbs alcohol more quickly. On top of that, the same amount of alcohol will result in a higher blood alcohol content compared to non-patients. It takes your body longer to process the alcohol, so it will take you longer to become sober again. This makes it easier to drink too much if you’re not careful.

What’s Happening in Your Body?

There are a few reasons why your body becomes more sensitive to alcohol:

  • Usually, alcohol will reach your stomach first and slowly empty into your small intestines. But after bariatric surgery, your stomach has either been removed or bypassed. That means alcohol goes straight to your intestines when you drink.
  • Absorption in the small intestine happens very quickly, because of the large surface area and because the stomach does not slow down the rate at which alcohol empties into the small intestines. So, your blood alcohol levels increase fast.
  • Food in your stomach normally slows down absorption. But after bariatric surgery, you’re not supposed to be drinking anything for an hour after meals. That means that if you’re following directions, each time you drink, you’re essentially drinking with an empty stomach, which makes you get drunk faster.
  • The enzyme that normally breaks down alcohol is impaired in many conditions relating to obesity, and so for many bariatric surgery patients, alcohol stays in the blood longer. Fasting and low calorie intake can also lead to enzyme impairment. This means it takes longer for alcohol to clear your system.

What Are the Dangers?

If you decide to drink alcohol, a number of problems can arise:

  • Drinking alcohol can throw you off your weight loss goals. Alcoholic beverages are high in carbohydrates and sugar. For example, wine contains twice as many calories per ounce compared to soda.
  • You put yourself at higher risk of alcohol-related health issues, such as acid reflex disease, gastritis, heart problems, hypoglycemia, intestinal tract inflammation, liver damage, and pancreatitis.
  • Your decision-making is easily impaired. You may be more likely to give in to food cravings. You also increase the chances of getting into a car accident or getting a DUI if you drive.

What If I Must Drink?

If you do decide to drink alcohol, always be extra cautious and mindful. Some guidelines to follow include:

  • Always discuss your decision to drink with your doctor.
  • Don’t drink for a few months after surgery, at least.
  • Avoid driving after drinking (seems like a no-brainer, but be extra careful!).
  • Only drink after eating a meal beforehand (wait at least an hour before drinking).
  • Choose beverages that are lower in sugar and carbs.

Your relationship with food will change after bariatric surgery, and that may include changing your drinking habits. Because your body will become extra sensitive to alcohol, it is best if you avoid drinking after bariatric surgery, or if you must drink, be extra cautious. If you have additional questions about post-surgery diet, don’t hesitate to reach out to your surgeon. Still considering bariatric surgery? Reach out to one of our world-class surgeons here.

Christie is a UChicago grad currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. In her free time, she enjoys tap dancing, learning to windsurf, and trying new foods.