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People considering weight-loss surgery often ask if it is possible to safely incorporate alcohol into a healthy diet and lifestyle after surgery. The short answer is “yes,” but gradually and with modifications. Below are reasons why.

Altered metabolism

Research shows that blood alcohol levels peak higher and faster and take longer to return to normal due to altered metabolism after gastric bypass surgery. In addition, many post-surgical patients consume less food when they’re drinking alcohol, which contributes to expedited absorption of alcohol in the blood stream. For many post-surgical patients, all it takes is a single drink to elevate blood alcohol level to the point of legal intoxication. This is important to remember for maintaining a healthy diet and before getting behind the wheel.

Low blood sugar

Rapid weight loss and low carbohydrate intake can lead to reduced sugar or glycogen in your body. Alcohol consumption further depletes glycogen, which causes your blood sugar levels to drop, putting those who have had bariatric surgery at higher risk for developing low blood sugar.

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a dangerous condition that can lead to loss of consciousness, brain and nerve damage or even death if left untreated. As a result, it’s important to be on the lookout for symptoms, which include loss of coordination and balance, slurred speech, poor vision and confusion.

If you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia, drink diluted juice or take a glucose tablet immediately to raise your blood sugar level, and then have a snack with complex carbohydrates and protein to sustain it. If hypoglycemic episodes occur frequently even without alcohol consumption, make sure you seek proper medical treatment.

Excess calories

Alcohol is high in calories and low in nutrients, which is why excess calories from alcohol can slow weight loss or even contribute to weight gain.

Addiction transfer

Patients with a history of addiction are at higher risk for developing a new addiction. With the dramatic reduction of food consumption after bariatric surgery, some patients may trade their food addiction for other addictive behaviors, including drugs, shopping, gambling, sex and alcohol.

Guidelines for drinking

Follow these guidelines to re-introduce alcohol without compromising your commitment to a healthy lifestyle after weight-loss surgery:

  • Avoid alcohol for the first six months after bariatric surgery.
  • When you get permission to start drinking alcohol again, avoid carbonated beverages and sugary drink mixers.
  • Remember that after surgery, even small amounts of alcohol can cause intoxication and low blood sugar.
  • Never drink and drive, even after consuming only minimal alcohol.
  • Only drink with meals or while eating to help slow absorption of alcohol.
  • Be aware of the calorie content of alcohol.

If you find yourself drinking regularly to cope with emotions or stress, seek help by consulting with your doctor.

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