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Alcoholism
Following Weight Loss Surgery

I am a strong supporter of weight loss surgery, however, we all need to be aware of pitfalls that await us in order to avoid them.

ďAt its most basic level, addiction ó whether to nicotine,  alcohol, drugs, food, sex, shopping or gambling ó is an attempt to control and fulfill the desire for happiness. An addict engages in a relationship with a substance or an activity in order to produce a desired mood change or a trancelike state." Craig Nakken, author of "The Addictive Personality.Ē

I am very blessed. People will email me with their hearts wide open. They will bear their souls to me.  In all of this honesty, I have been seeing a destructive trend start to emerge. The trend is toward alcoholism.  Some of us have replaced our food addiction with an alcohol addiction and are not able to control it.

I asked for people to share their struggles with alcohol with me. I want to share with you several of the many stories that I received.

Pattyís Story

Hi Barbara,
It's time I wrote to you. You brought up the subject of alcoholism after weight loss surgery. It happened to me. I began with just a shot of tequila to get a little buzz now and then when I was with friends.

I soon found out how much I liked that buzz. It happened quickly and was quite a rush. I guess with our new anatomy, it's like mainlining alcohol. It's almost as if it were an IV dose.

In the beginning it was a couple of shots and that was it for the night. It progressed quickly. In 10 months I accomplished what people who haven't had weigh loss surgery take 10 years to accomplish. I became a raging alcoholic. I was drinking daily and the amount had increased so much it was scary. I withdrew from my friends and family. I did things I never thought possible for me to do. I knew I was headed for destruction. I couldn't wait to get home to drink. I turned into a horrible person and traded my need to fill the void in my life from food to alcohol.

Now, I attend my weight loss surgery support group weekly. We introduce ourselves and say how much weight we've lost and what type of surgery we had, etc. I even got one of your century club ribbons! We all clap and cheer and share in the excitement. Four or five other times during the week, I introduce myself at meetings by saying, "Hi. My name is Patty and I'm an alcoholic."

There is no going back, Barbara. Once a cucumber becomes a pickle, it can never be a cucumber again. I address this topic quite frequently in my weight loss surgery support group because I see it happening to other people. I've taken it to my surgeon's office and shared it with the psychologist there. They don't seem very interested. I'm scared for my friends.

I will be 4 years post-op from weight loss surgery in August. In September I will have 2 years of sobriety. Before surgery, I was a social drinker. I could drink one or two drinks and that would be satisfying for a night. I usually only had a drink every few months. It was not a part of my life. After surgery, it took over. I tried to fill that same void, that same pain that food used to attempt to fill with alcohol. And after surgery it was fun... for awhile. But just like everything we use to fill that void, it stopped working. That void can only be filled by something within us. We cannot fill an internal need with something external. It's just not possible. We must learn to care about ourselves enough to trust that still small voice that says, "You're ok... just like you are." It's often very hard to hear because of all the other things that have overshadowed it from our past and even our present lives. They scream so loud it is all we hear. 

People use many other addictions as a trade off, but alcohol will kill us. We need to make people aware of this. Thank you so much for bringing up this topic. If there is anything I can do, answer, say... let me know. Feel free to use anything I've said in your newsletter that you feel may help others. I got my life back... again. I'm not sure how many other chances I'll have.

Big time hugs!
Patty

Katherineís Story

Iím a 28 year old mother of 2 beautiful girls ages 5 and 1. I started my weight loss surgery journey in January 2003. I weighed 307 pounds the day of surgery. I lost 178 pounds in 15 months and went down 22 sizes going from 28/30ís down to 8/10ís and some 12ís. I felt better than I had in years. All the things I thought were just dreams were coming true. I prayed and told God if heíd just see me through this journey that Iíd fly right and always reach out to others and let them know they arenít alone.

My desire to have another baby became my next chapter in my weight loss surgery journey. We conceived our second child when I was 18 months post-op. I gained 45 pounds with the pregnancy and our daughter was born a healthy happy 6 pounds 11 ounces the following April. I was very happy and content being a stay-at-home mom of our girls and the wife and sister and daughter and aunt etc. Well, I began to feel like is this all my life is going to be? Day in and day out taking care of the kids and doing all the housework, the bills and the little things that go virtually unnoticed?

Four months later I started going out with friends and at first it was meeting for dinner and chatting. It felt good because I rarely went out unless it was with our girls, with some friends or to family related functions. I was thankful for these nights out and weekends away. I got a break and got to spend it with good friends I really care about and could have fun with.

There were some in the group who were social drinkers and others who drank a lot. I started having a drink here and there which snow balled and I began drinking every time we went out. One drink turned into two and three and before I knew it there honestly wasnít a time when I didnít drink when we went out. It was almost like I didnít know how to act without a drink in my hand. It made me feel good and I didnít care about what I was wearing and what others were saying and thinking. I was no longer the ďstick in the mudĒ or the girl in the corner while everyone else had fun. I started getting out on the dance floor and dancing and it felt good. I was getting attention from all types of people and it felt so nice. I began to blame things as being a result of my drinking. I would spend insane amounts of money and I would say this or that because of it and did this or that because of it. I kept going out and drinking and dancing and feeling like I fit in and was accepted by all those who didnít accept me when I weighed more than 300 pounds. The difference between then and now is all of my drinking and partying nearly cost me my life last September.

A group of friends, my sister included, decided to go out and have a few drinks and dance the night away. We started out at a local club where I started out with a couple of Fuzzy Navels and then 2 beers. Someone introduced me to Jager (hard liquor) shots and Iíd had 2 of them then another Fuzzy Navel. It took quite a bit of time before it honestly gave me a sensation of feeling drunk. We left one club for another and I started feeling the effects of the drinks Iíd had but the sensation was wearing off quickly. I wanted to drink more. I knew that I didnít need to but the urge was there. We arrived at the club. It was loud, smoky and packed full of some of the best friends a gal could have.

We got a corner section of tables and start drinking almost immediately. I remember having several more Fuzzy Navels and shots of Jager, Buttery Nipples, Captain Morgan & Coke. Iíd consumed more than 20 drinks between the 2 clubs.

Our night was about to turn really ugly not to mention scary and almost deadly. I had these 20+ drinks in about a 3 hour period. I remember at some point trying to stumble to the bathroom. I somehow made it and remember throwing up but there was nothing there. I hadnít had much of anything to eat that whole day except for Ĺ a taco at dinner. I was dry heaving and felt like the room was spinning and I had little or no control. I donít even remember who it was who found me but it was clear it was time for us to leave. I could barely walk and I felt awful. I had to stop right outside the doors of the club to once again try to throw up. Again, nothing came up as I continued dry heaving.

My friends had to physically carry me to a car. They put me in it and I remember feeling the coolness of the breeze in my face from the window being down. From this point on I remember things but not clearly. I was going in and out of consciousness and trying to figure out what was happening. I am told we stopped several times on the way back to our friendís apartment for someone to hold my hair while I tried to throw up. I was carried into an apartment where at this point I blacked out completely. I am told that my friends tried to wake me up several times and get me to drink water and just to make sure I was ok. It was obvious I was not. At one point, I stopped breathing. I was told that my friends were very close to calling 911 and were crying and trying to get me to wake up. I eventually started breathing and some of my friends stayed with me most of the night and one the entire night.

I woke up the next morning not realizing why I was in someone elseís home and just how Iíd gotten there. I remember feeling as if I could barely move. I saw my friend sitting there and she asked if I was ok and told me where my cell phone was and said she was going to bed. I could tell she was upset. I called my father to come and pick me up. It wasnít until the following week that I realized all Iíd put my family and friends through not to mention my body and myself. I scared them all.

I spent the next week trying to recover physically from that night and from the embarrassment of my actions. I cannot imagine how many times I apologized for my behavior. You would think Iíd have learned my lesson but I kept drinking although not as much and not as often. I have always been a people watcher and started doing just that. I began observing how others reacted and acted when they drank especially those of us post-op. I quickly saw that drinking affects us much more quickly than those whoíve not had weight loss sirgery.

In January 2006 I attended a group conference that was supposed to be a weekend of celebration and recognition of our successes with weight loss surgery. There were many people drinking excessively. I had about 2 drinks and saw the effects on my fellow WLSíers and friends. It seemed more like a drink fest than a celebration. I found myself upset, embarrassed, angry, scared and most of all I felt like we failed to succeed in the purpose of the conference.

I realized from that point on drinking has become a major issue not just for me, but for others in our group. I have cut back considerably in my drinking and as a result of my situation and others in my circle of friends I look at drinking once again as something that should be done completely in moderation or not at all. It is trading one addiction (food) for another. We have had a major life saving surgery and are getting our weight under control and cannot use food any longer as our ďfriend.Ē Turning to drinking gives us that temporary feeling of fitting in, belonging, feeling good and more. However, the effects on our health and well being are compromised. In some cases some have not been as lucky as I have to still be sitting here able to share my story.

This is becoming a trend among many weight loss surgery post-ops and there is a real lack of information and education regarding alcohol and weight loss surgery. We have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars to become healthier but the effects of weight loss surgery in the following years post-op arenít widely discussed and studied.

DYís Story

Barbara,
Thank you for your wonderful book which led me to my Doctor back in 2001. My family on both sides has had a problem with alcohol for generations. I never drank because I was afraid that I was so habitual with "oral" gratifications. I was a smoker for 25 years, but I quit 10 years ago. I was an eater, and now I have found that in the last year and a half that I am drinking, and the drinking is adding to my weight.

I initially lost 150 pounds and was feeling really good. But in the last 5 years I have crept up 50 pounds, and am feeling it. My Doctor was a wonderful surgeon, but he was a general surgeon and had no program in place to support post -op patients. I am the one who introduced your book to him, and even helped the hospital dietitian get her act together for bypass patients. I am joining your "back-on-track" program -- because I need HELP! I would have my bypass surgery again in a "New York minute", but I need support and have problems with alcohol. Please do not use my name just my initials. I am too embarrassed to be recognized. Anyone else out there having the "alcohol" problem too? What are you doing for help?

Thanks

Anneís Story

Dear Barbara
Thank you for bringing up this topic. I had the Lap band in July 2005. I have lost 60 pounds. I think about drinking all the time. I have started AA. I have never had a drink before but it does run deep in my family. The cravings are intense. I have traded one addiction for another. What can be done?  It is scary

Lesliís Story

Hi Barbara,
I have definitely found myself in this situation.  Prior to surgery, I couldn't stand the taste of wine. I found it too dry!  After surgery, with the change in my taste buds and my inability to like sweet things, somehow wine became tolerable.  I now find myself drinking more than 2 glasses per day and I know that the calories are not helping my weight maintenance.  I am 3 1/2 years post op and am finding myself unable to maintain my weight the way I used to be able to.  I contribute it all to my drinking. 

I came from an alcoholic family. My father was an alcoholic and I never believed that I would fall into the same trap.  But I question every day if I am substituting my love for food for love of drink.  I had no idea that it could be related to the weight loss surgery so I was very surprised to see your newsletter!  Please tell me that there are others out there that are substituting food for drink!

Dianeís Story

Wow! I didn't really put this together.  I have been drinking wine daily, and never did before surgery.  I don't always drink to get drunk but I am pretty upset if I don't at least have a glass before I go to bed.  I have made the excuse that it helps me sleep.  But I have read numerous articles stating it will help you fall asleep, but not get you into the proper REM stages you need for sleep. I do think since I have picked up this habit it has inhibited my weight loss. I have just been blaming it on a plateau. 

I had weight loss surgery in May 2004 and have lost 120 pounds. I would still like to lose an additional 60 pounds, but maybe the wine has affected this because of the calories and the time of night I drink. I may start drinking about 8pm and continue until I go to bed at 10pm.  I am so interested if others have picked up this habit too?!?

Donna's Story

Hi Barbara,
I have not shared my concern about drinking too much wine because I was afraid of being labeled an alcoholic. I am not inclined to over eat as much as I truly enjoy a glass of Merlot in the evening, maybe two or three glasses. I don't feel out of control but I do feel guilty that it could be the reason I'm not losing weight. Is there something I should know as to why I enjoy wine vs/ food?  Thank you.

Pamís Story

Barbara,
I have pondered that same question: Have I traded food for alcohol? I am 15 months post op. My starting weight was 331 pounds and I am 5'6." My current weight is 168, so I am down 163 pounds. 

Out with the girls on Friday night has become mainstream for me for almost a year now. Alcohol is always involved. I love to drink gin and tonic. I have a high tolerance and can drink an average of 5 drinks over a 5 hour period. Currently however, my alcohol intake is just not on Friday nights. I have wine everyday around 5-5:30 and average one glass a night.  I have been known to stop at a bar for a margarita on the way home by myself, something I never did before surgery. In fact my alcohol consumption before surgery was 2 to 3 drinks a month, if that!

Is it really a trade of behaviors or is it that my life is more social, and with that social scene alcohol is part of it? My circle of friends is also weight loss surgery patients and they agree that their consumption of alcohol has increased. I have tried sobriety just last week. I only lasted 36 hours. I take this seriously and have curtailed my consumption to 2 drinks then I switch to water and lime.

I look forward to your publication on this topic.

Nancyís Story

Hi Barbara,
I do feel that I have traded a food obsession for an alcohol obsession. I have always been a social drinker; however I could go many months without a drink before. Now since the surgery, I feel I would rather have a drink instead of a snack. I probably drink four out of seven days of the week, and I may have 2 drinks in the evening on weekdays, and up to 4 drinks on the weekends.

That was never the case with me before the surgery. It does cross my mind sometimes that I may be drinking too often, and my weight loss has come to a halt. I would like to lose 25 more pounds to reach my goal weight, and I have been told that if I cut out the alcohol that it would probably come off much faster. I however get a weird pleasure from a drink. It feels as if I am filling some type of void.

I am very glad that I am not alone, I didn't want to tell anyone about it, and sometimes I laugh about it, but I didn't realize it may be a problem.

Thank you for your concern.

Lizís Story

Your question about trading food addiction to alcohol addiction slapped me in the face. I have been suffering with this for almost three years. I abused alcohol in the past, but not like this. It doesn't take much to drink into a black out. But, I don't even stop there. I have had problems with my marriage and my children. I am mostly a binge drinker. I hide my alcohol because my husband and children don't want me to drink anymore.

My drink of choice is vodka and a diet energy drink. They go down smooth and fast. I try to just drink one, but I can drink up to a fifth of vodka in one night. I make a fool of my self have had one DWI.

The last time I drank, which was two weeks ago, I got very aggressive and could have been arrested for breaking and entering. I don't want to go to AA. I have gone through treatment for alcohol abuse after a rape in 1986 and have done two outpatients.

I think the reason I didn't get to my goal weight is because of the drinking. I weighed 319 pounds, got down to 286 pounds the day of surgery which was February 2003
and am 190 pounds now at 5'3. I have maintained my weight the entire time. I just
messed up during my 18 months to lose.

I would like to hear more on other people having the same problem.

Triciaís Story

I had my surgery on October 27, 2003 and picked up alcohol and other substances shortly thereafter, after 18 years of "sobriety." I also misused pain medication and began to smoke pot again. Though I had stopped those substances many years before, I left the rooms of recovery because I was able to maintain my sense of isolation and my destructive thinking through the use of food. I spent several years in OA also, but always returned to food, not other substances, as my primary addiction. When I had surgery, I could no longer hide behind food and I could not handle the sense of desperation I felt. However, I had nurtured resentment about the 12-step programs and did not think to return there to address my problems. So it was inevitable that I would need to pick up something to deaden the pain and emptiness I felt inside.

I currently have just over 30 days of sobriety, and have found the support in the rooms of recovery to be just what I needed. I am learning that I cannot live a happy life until I work on the problems I create in my own head. The program helps me find the serenity I need and challenges me to look at my behavior and how it affects my thinking and my relationships with others.

I have dropped the defensiveness that food always allowed me to maintain, and I have learned that I can no longer view myself as separate from others. I am an addictive person and still sometimes seek solace in food. But, since the surgery, I am not able to consume the quantities that made the "food solution" work for me before. It has taken awhile, but I am growing spiritually and emotionally in a way I never thought possible before surgery. And I know I would never have returned to the rooms of recovery when I was imprisoned by the shame of excess weight.

Surgery was the best thing I ever did for myself. But we need to continue to grow beyond the physical changes or we will deteriorate and find something else to fill the void. Thanks for letting me share my experience.

Myraís Story

This has definitely become a problem for me. I love to drink, I love the affect, and I love my euphoria. It has also caused weight gain, and compulsive eating. When I totally abstain I feel better. I am on a cycle of drinking too much and eating, and then totally abstaining. I haven't traded one addiction for another. I just added another.

Bonnieís Story

What a strange coincidence that I received your newsletter when I was just recently rushed by ambulance to the emergency room in severe pain.  Apparently my "partying" in Houston and Lafayette had finally caught up with me. 

I have been consuming an enormous amount of alcohol. March 18th at 3:00 am it all came crashing down on me. My pancreas was severely inflamed.

I was not drinking every day but when I did drink, I made up for not drinking every day!  My doctor has since informed me that I cannot have any alcohol at all, positively no alcohol ever again! 

When people ask me why I was drinking so much, all I could tell them was that I liked the feeling and it was fun drinking and having a grand ole time. Since I wasn't hungry, I had lots of room for alcohol!  This was a big mistake.

I will be 3 years post-op on May 9, 2006.  I've lost 246 pounds and my weight has finally stabilized at around 125-130 pounds.

The most valuable lesson I've learned since my surgery is that having gastric bypass surgery gave me a second chance for a richer and fuller life and I almost destroyed it by my behavior. I had not dealt with or even considered changing my behavior until now.  So I can only tell all you out there to think twice even three times before picking up that drink. It's not worth it.

Paulís Story

Hi Barbara,
I am one who had weight loss surgery and can relate to this.

In October, 2003, I had my surgery and was very successful. I followed my doctorís advice exactly.

I went on vacation in December.  My friends were having drinks while I was drinking water. Following my vacation I went for my third checkup with my surgeon and asked him if I could drink alcoholic beverages. He suggested that I could but in small quantities.

I used to drink beer before the surgery and tried my first beer and couldn't stand it. It tasted awful, plus I felt it bloated my small pouch too much.  I started drinking wine and found that a couple of glasses of wine made me tipsy in no time.  I have had some many instances that my parents or my wife had to come and pick me up at different places because I was not in any way capable of driving my car after 2 glasses of wine.

This kept going on for a while until I decided to quit.  I started exercising and riding my bike with my wife and everything was great for a couple of months.

Stress started in my job and I needed some relief. I went back to wine which was a big mistake. I have been drinking wine for about 2 years. My safety on the road and the way I was waking up in morning made me realize that I couldn't go through with it anymore.

I didn't ask for any outside help, but tried to limit my intake to two to four glasses a week.  My first week, was good.  My second week was even better. I was feeling alive again.  There are some times that I don't even drink wine.  I have substituted water for flavored water, just to replace the wine.  It has been difficult, but I think I have it under control now.  I have been in control for about 4 months, and still trying to control it.  It doesn't seem to be that difficult.

People who have had gastric bypass surgery need to know that having alcoholic beverages will expand their pouches. I know, because I have noticed that my intake had been more in those instances.  I don't want to get to the same size I was before and have noticed that.  I am doing my best to eat the right foods and just feel satisfied without any liquids, including alcohol. I decided to stop drinking because it was affecting my marriage, work, and family interaction.

I know that people who used to drink a lot just like myself have to make a life adjustment.  Just like you have your stomach reduced and are starting a new life, you need to adjust to everything else, it is going to be hard, but you must try to accomplish this.

My regards to everyone

Anonymousí Story

When I read that on the last news letter I almost fell off my chair. Iím 2 years post-op and have lost 120 pounds and feel worse now than ever. Four months after my surgery I was so tired and felt so bad I thought something was really wrong.

I had my blood work done and a full check up and found out I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalga, not just one but both. I hurt all over and when a really bad flare up hits Iím in bed for days. This is not what I envisioned when I had this surgery. I wanted to be able to walk again for more than a few steps without hurting and not being able to breathe. So thatís my reason for drinking. I beat myself up all the time for so many things then just get so depressed about everything. I could care less about eating but let me start drinking and I donít stop until I know I will sleep for days. Then I wonít have to think about anything or deal with anything.

Thereís so much more to it which Iím sure you realize but if anyone has traded food for alcohol it has to be me. And they said you canít drink after this surgery! I wish that were true. I can drink just about anyone I know under the table and still go for more. Lately Iíve been thinking about talking to my doctor about all this but he doesnít even know I drink, and I donít know how to start with him.

Anonymous in Atlanta, GA

It's funny, I was always the one in my family that didn't need or want a drink, not even a glass of wine. I have siblings that are alcoholics, our father was too. Since my surgery, it started with a glass of wine with dinner, now I'm drinking 3 glasses a night!! I'm not happy about it and I am scared I can't go without it. I'm a lupus patient, on many meds, and have liver problems. So, you would think I would know not to drink at all any more!  I want to be the person I was a year ago, when I didn't need or want alcohol.

 

Sherryís Story

I feel that maybe I am becoming an alcoholic since my surgery. I had my surgery 3 years ago and I now weigh 110pounds. My surgeon wants me to weigh130pounds. I eat full meals and graze when I am hungry. I enjoy 2 to 3 glasses of wine every night. If I drink harder liquor, after one drink I don't remember the night before. I have tried not to drink but I really enjoy the wine and I feel that I have given up everything else. Could this making my weight stay so low?

 

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