Alcohol and bariatric surgery: Review and suggested recommendations for assessment and management

Leslie J. Heinberg, Kathleen Ashton, Janelle Coughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Established clinical guidelines identify current alcohol abuse and dependence as contraindications for weight loss surgery. However, guidance on how to best assess alcohol use in bariatric patients has not been elucidated. Furthermore, concerns with postoperative alcohol use/abuse and increased sensitivity warrant the development of recommendations on appropriate interventions for patients pursuing weight loss surgery. Our objective was to review the current data on bariatric surgery and substance abuse/addiction, with an emphasis on alcohol use, offer guidance on how to assess the risk of such problems, and provide preliminary recommendations on treating high-risk patients. Methods: The relevant published data on alcohol use, abuse, and dependence in pre- and postoperative bariatric patients was reviewed. Also, the putative mechanisms of increased alcohol sensitivity after weight loss surgery were examined. Results: Although current alcohol abuse/dependence is less than that in population-base rates, bariatric surgery candidates have a greater history of alcohol use disorders. Physiologic changes after surgery can also change vulnerability to problematic alcohol use, and many patients continue to consume alcohol after surgery. Assessment techniques and strategies to provide informed consent and education on alcohol were included from the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Conclusion: Weight loss surgery candidates might have a greater lifetime risk of alcohol use disorders and greater sensitivity to the intoxicating effects of alcohol after surgery. Adequate screening, assessment, and preoperative preparation could help mitigate this risk. Future research should examine the efficacy of such risk management strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-363
Number of pages7
JournalSurgery for Obesity and Related Diseases
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2012


  • Alcohol
  • Assessment
  • Bariatric surgery
  • Psychology
  • Risk
  • Substance abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery

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