Pitt Study Finds Weight-Loss Surgery Increases Risk of Alcohol Use Disorders

Pitt Public Health researchers have discovered that people who receive the most popular weight-loss surgical procedure are at an increased risk of developing symptoms of alcohol use disorders. The findings are the first to draw a clear link between Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB) surgery and symptoms of alcohol use disorders and could have implications for patient screening before surgery.

Lead author Wendy King, Ph.D., assistant professor in Pitt’s Public Health Department of Epidemiology, who presented the results at the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery’s annual meeting in San Diego said, “patients should be educated about the potential effect of bariatric surgery, in particular RYGB surgery, increasing the risk of alcohol use disorders. Alcohol screening should be included in routine pre- and post-operative care.”

King and her Pitt Public Health colleagues investigated alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorder symptoms in 1,945 study participants in the Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery study. Nearly 70 percent of study participants underwent the popular RYGB surgery and among them 7 percent reported symptoms of alcohol use disorders prior to surgery. Although there was not a significant increase in alcohol use disorders after one year, by the second post-operative year there was a greater than 50 percent relative increase.

“Among RYGB patients, there was a significant decrease in alcohol consumption in the first year after surgery, compared to the year before surgery, but not in the second year. Thus, the increase in alcohol use disorder symptoms following RYGB surgery was likely a result of an increase in alcohol sensitivity following surgery combined with resumption of higher levels of alcohol consumption in the second post-operative year,” King said.

King’s study found several patient characteristics that could help predict whether a patient is more likely to develop alcohol use disorders following surgery. These included a lower sense of interpersonal support, smoking, recreational drug use, consumption of alcohol at least two times per week, and prior alcohol disorders. Men and younger adults were more likely to develop alcohol use disorders.


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