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Being overweight can cause issues for a person, both on a physical and a psychological level. Some people opt for surgery to help them lose the weight so they can try to live a healthier life. In some people, though, vulnerability to addiction increases after gastric bypass surgery, perhaps because they are unprepared for the psychological challenges they may face afterwards.

Surgery to Fight Obesity

In the US each year, approximately 200,000 people have surgery in an effort to lose weight. The country is, in fact, getting heavier every year. Over one in three people are considered to be obese and over one in twenty fit the definition for extreme obesity.


Surgery known as a gastric bypass is actually the oldest known weight-loss surgical procedure and remains the gold standard, as it has shown the longest record of success. During the procedure, the surgeon takes the steps necessary to reduce the patient’s stomach to the size of a walnut. Then the stomach is attached to the middle of the small intestine where it bypasses a section that normally absorbs calories.

Stress of Adjustment

For someone who has been overweight for a long time, the change in their physical appearance after surgery may require a significant adjustment, emotionally and physically. Weight loss, particularly  when it happens relatively quickly, can impact an individual’s body image, lifestyle, and social functioning, both positively and negatively. While the physical result was certainly desired, the mental adjustment can be challenging.

Adaptive Coping Skills

Often, individuals undergoing gastric bypass surgery are not adequately prepared, psychologically, for their new look. They experience the stresses without the appropriate, adaptive coping skills necessary to properly adjust. One theory is that this, in part, explains the fact that vulnerability to addiction increases after gastric bypass.

People have reported profound changes in their life as a result of the surgery, which delivers a relatively rapid and substantial weight loss for them. The impact for them can be both positive and negative and can affect their relationships with loved ones, friends, and even strangers. This type of sudden adjustment is difficult without effective and healthy coping skills.

Existing Psychological Distress

People who undergo surgery to lose weight have already experienced significant psychosocial issues because of the stigma surrounding overweight individuals. Most have already spent a considerable amount of time inhabiting larger bodies, which has caused them to deal with negative judgments and other psychological challenges. A tendency to internalize this stigma can cause further emotional distress. After surgery, the weight may be reduced but the psychological distress can remain.

Emotional Vulnerability to Addiction

There are certain physical reasons for an increase in alcohol addiction in people who have undergone gastric bypass. There are also psychological and emotional reasons related to the stress that individuals experience both before and after their surgery.

Turning to alcohol or drugs may become a new coping strategy after surgery, particularly when the individual is not equipped with the appropriate support and guidance to be able to deal appropriately with their weight loss.

Several factorsmay increase an individual’s vulnerability to addiction after gastric bypass. When considering surgery for weight loss, it is critically important to seek counseling and guidance to learn healthier coping skills to deal with these issues and to be able to manage the new lifestyle in a more effective manner. Vulnerability to addiction may be a result of a history of:

  • Substance abuse in the individual or in the family
  • Eating disorders, food addiction or compulsive eating
  • Engaging in self-sabotaging tendencies
  • Chronic pain, possibly accompanied by overuse of narcotics for pain management
  • Trauma, especially childhood sexual abuse
  • Depression and other mood or anxiety disorders.

The individual may also have experienced:

  • An avoidance of emotions and experiences
  • Regular consumption of alcohol before surgery
  • A lack of adequate support
  • A feeling of isolation.

Signs of Addictive Behavior

When you or a loved one becomes concerned about a possibility of a vulnerability to addiction after gastric bypass, be aware of the signs of addictive behavior, including:

  • Using more drugs or alcohol to get the same effect as time progresses
  • Multiple unsuccessful efforts to stop using drugs or alcohol
  • Legal, financial, professional, or personal issues that are directly related to substance use
  • Trying to cover up the substance use, drinking in secret or lying about the drug use
  • Feelings of shame or guilt about the addictive behavior
  • Using drugs or alcohol becoming the main focus of what to look forward to each day.

Help for Drug Abuse and Mental Health Issues

If you are struggling with the challenges of significant changes in your life after gastric bypass surgery, help and hope is here. At Hope by the Sea, a southern California addiction treatment center, we help you through the journey of recovery from drug abuse as well as mental health issues.

Our team continues to follow federal, state, and local public health guidelines regarding COVID-19 to ensure our clients’ safety. Please contact us today to learn more about our programs and services. Hope Starts Here!