Drinking after having gastric bypass surgery has always been a very controversial topic. I’ve heard very compelling arguments both for and against drinking post-op. My personal choice? I choose to drink wine and the occasional hard liquor. Why? Because even though WLS changed my life, I will not be defined by it or let it dictate every single thing I do. I’ve had this talk with my surgeon and while he does tend to lecture me about alcohol’s “empty calories” he did begrudgingly agree that in moderation, it wasn’t bad for me. What I struggle with, however, is that whole “in moderation” part. No, it’s not that I drink everyday or I drink too much, it’s my brain’s irrational stubbornness of thinking that I should be able to drink the same amount as everyone else.
The problem with drinking alcohol post-op is that as WLS patients, our stomach doesn’t quite process it the same way as would someone who hasn’t had the surgery. Gastric bypass seriously affects alcohol absorption and its inebriating influence. In other words, I am now a total lightweight. The scientific explanation behind this would be that since 95% of the stomach and gut are bypassed with gastric bypass, alcohol passes directly from the pouch into the second portion of the gut (known as the jejunum); which has a large surface area which very rapidly absorbs the alcohol. So, what that means for me is that after two glasses of wine (sometimes one, depending on the size and how fast I drink it), I’m pretty buzzed. Now, all that would be fine and dandy if a) I strictly stuck to the two-glass rule and b) I sipped my drinks slowly or drank water between drinks. Sound easy, right? And I’m sure it’s easy for other people, but for some reason, the minute I start feeling buzzed all my rational thinking goes out the window and I go into “I-wanna-be-normal” mode, which means that I try and drink the same way my (non WLS) friends drink. Disaster. I end up way too drunk and feeling very, very sick. You’d think after the first couple times that happened, I would have learned my lesson. And I usually think I do, but somehow I ignore whatever I’ve learned and I end up right back where I was before. What’s worse is that it’s always such a fine line for me: one moment I’m fine, laughing and enjoying myself, then next thing you know I feel like death. Nauseous, painful, disgusting death.
I’ve gotten better at handling this, and most of the time I’m able to handle myself but sometimes I slip. The strategy that’s worked for me in the past and that I’m adhering to 90% of the time is sipping my drinks very slowly. Also, I’m starting to drink more water once I start feeling very buzzed. That usually works a lot better for me. I’ve also learned to avoid wine during the workweek but that’s mostly a caloric restriction thing, plus alcohol is not good if you’re working out a lot. What I also have been working on is not being so hard on myself when I do slip, and try to remember that pre-op it also took me a long time to learn what my limits were in regards to alcohol. When I first started drinking post-op, I drank way too much and got way too sick too often; it was not fun. I also ran the risk of Addiction Transfer, which I didn’t know about. Apparently 25% of bariatric patients end up becoming alcoholics because they start drinking too early and the alcohol addiction replaces their food addiction. That is something I find unbelievably scary, and I’m very lucky that it didn’t happen to me. I’ve learned to start pacing myself, and although I may screw up sometimes, I am doing so much better. I hope that by me writing this here, I can spare someone else the experience of those early days with drinking; which were not a lot of fun and were very confusing.
So, if you choose to drink alcohol after surgery, I would suggest definitely waiting six months (or better yet, until you’re completely done with your rapid weight loss, or “honeymoon period”) and taking your time. Remember that alcohol tends to have a lot of calories, so if you don’t monitor that it could impede future weight loss. Drinking less than your friends and being called a “light weight” is not the end of the world; in fact, it’s kind of an advantage. We drink less so we spend less, and in this economy, isn’t that kind of awesome?