managing addictive behaviors after bariatric surgery
Mental Health
5 Methods of Managing Addictive Behaviors after Bariatric Surgery

Weight loss surgery is a significant stressor in your life and can lead to addictive behaviors after bariatric surgery. Many bariatric patients suffer, or have suffered, from psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, and difficulty handling the social stresses of being overweight. 

Bariatric surgery can reopen past wounds that could derail your long-term success if you never learned how to cope in a healthy manner. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of addictive behaviors after bariatric surgery that may impact your overall health and weight loss goals. 

Addictive Behaviors after Bariatric Surgery

Addiction is characterized as uncontrolled behavioral patterns that, almost always, negatively impact your health. It is a disorder that results in the compulsive engagement of your brain's reward center. When a patient develops an addiction, the brain craves the reward of a behavior or substance. In response, many patients will continue to engage their reward center to experience those feelings of euphoria, happiness, and other positive emotions.  

addictive behaviors after bariatric surgery

Some addictions that may arise after bariatric surgery include: 

  • Drug use and drug abuse
  • Alcoholism 
  • Gambling addictions
  • Sexual addictions 
  • Anger management 

Addictions are concerns of impulse control. If a patient has not dealt with these conditions before bariatric surgery, we strongly recommend they learn how to cope with these addictive behaviors before having their procedure done. As the surgery starts bringing more stress to your life, some people may go back to the addictive behaviors after bariatric surgery and use substances they previously used to rely on to handle their emotions. Similarly, they may trade one addition for another. 

Studies show that up to 30% of bariatric surgery patients may experience a transfer addiction, most commonly trading a food addiction for another dependence. However, patients are still at risk of developing addictive behaviors after bariatric surgery regardless of whether they identify with having a food addiction. Some patients who experienced other addictive behaviors before surgery are at risk of falling back into the same cycle. 

Therefore, we always caution patients in the early stages after surgery when it is euphoric, the weight is coming off, and goals are being met to pay close attention to their previous addictions. 

The ultimate sadness for us as bariatric providers is to see our patients get five years down the road have lost a significant amount of weight, experiencing better health, but now suffering from an addiction. 

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How to Break Addictive Behaviors after Bariatric Surgery

What do you do when you realize you have an addiction but don’t know where to turn? 

1. Get help. 

You can’t recover from addiction by yourself. Even if you stop engaging in whatever your addictive substance or behavior is, you need the help of a professional and others who understand your struggle. There are a lot of online resources to get help from professionals or support groups for others suffering from addiction. 

2. Find encouragement.

Giving up an addictive substance or behavior can be extremely difficult. You need encouragement from people who love you. Let people who love you know what you are doing. Let them know specifically how they can help you. And reach out to them for help when you are struggling.

3. Be patient.

The road to remaining abstinent is often a difficult one. Be patient as you go through the frustrations, fears, irritations, and pain of giving up an addictive behavior. 

4. Take it one minute, hour, and day, at a time.

Choose to abstain from your unhealthy behavior or substance just for the moment, not for tomorrow or for the rest of your life. The process won’t seem so daunting by breaking down your recovery into smaller moments. 

5. Seek gratitude.

Celebrate the moments when you successfully maintain your resolve to live in recovery. Be grateful for the help and support that is available to you. And use it.

Every time you talk back to your addiction and choose to move forward in recovery, you develop gratitude for your hard work, for the people in your life who help you, and for the self-esteem you gain. Most importantly, as you leave your addictive lifestyle behind you, you begin to live healthy and live fully. There’s so much to be grateful for as a recovering addict.

Conclusion

Addictive behaviors after bariatric surgery are common in some patients, especially those who have struggled with impulse control before surgery. As the stress of life begins and you feel like you are no longer reaching your health goals, patients are at risk of falling back into negative behavioral patterns. Therefore, having the appropriate infrastructure in place to help you cope is vital to your long-term success. If you manage these addictive behaviors proactively, you will experience all the benefits that weight loss surgery brings.

Donald Maynard, MD, FACS
Dr. Donald Maynard is a board-certified bariatric and general surgeon with over 20 years of experience in the medical field. Dr. Maynard started the practice Surgical Associates of Metro Atlanta (SAMA Bariatrics) where he specializes in general and bariatric surgery.
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