Gastric bypass patients at higher risk of alcoholism

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by Debbie Denmon / WFAA.com

khou.com

Posted on July 16, 2012 at 6:12 PM

Craig Thompson had  wrestled with his weight since he was a child.

Ironically, he was recruited when he was in the Navy to become a sumo wrestler in Japan. He enjoyed the stint for a while,  until he tipped the scales at 400 pounds.

Thompson returned to the states and tried every diet under the sun, but he was miserable.

"The height of the miserability [sic] was when I was on a flight from Dallas to New Jersey and the plane had to wait until they got me a seat belt extension," he said.

The shame Thompson felt from hearing over the intercom that the plane would be delayed was humiliating enough to make him undergo gastric bypass surgery.

In one year he dropped 200 pounds, but he gained another pressing problem.

"About six months out, I was a knuckle-dragging drunk,"  Thompson said. "I started doing stuff like drinking and driving, and I should've hurt somebody, but only by the grace of God did I not kill somebody."

He's not alone in his fight with alcoholism.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) just came out with a study in June where a little more than a thousand people who underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass were determined to become twice as likely to develop alcohol-use disorders about a year or so after surgery.

"We were so glad to see studies vouch for what we already know," said Brenda Iliff with Caron Texas, an addiction treatment center.

Iliff is the clinical director of Caron Texas and has been speaking on the seriousness of this subject.

"The National Institute of Health did an ever bigger study," she said. "They followed 12,000 gastric bypass patients over 25 years and found people who had gastric bypass were four times more likely to end up in treatment for alcohol addiction."

She said they often doubted stories when weight loss patients would come in and say they did not have an alcohol problem before surgery, but they would double check with family and found out they were being truthful. She is not surprised.

"It's moving from one addiction to another," Iliff said. "Ultimately, it's about healing the hole inside."

Thompson who owns his own production and mobile app company, learned the solution to his dilemma was going to rehab, which he did for 90 days to treat his alcoholism.

"Being thinner does not cure all of your problems," he said. "I had to dig deep and work hard to get to the root cause of what made me want to use food and alcohol to mask my pain. Now, I'm good."

He has been sober for years, and maintains his own weight loss surgery online channel where he gives 90-second video messages of what to consider before bariatric surgery and what one should anticipate afterward.

"I think now that you have these studies showing the correlation between alcoholism and weight loss surgery, doctors have to do a better job of informing potential patients of the pitfalls, because surgery only treats the symptoms," Iliff said.

E-mail ddenmon@wfaa.com

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