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How to Handle Addictions after Bariatric Surgery

Weight loss surgery adds a lot of stress to your life and can ultimately lead to addictions after bariatric surgery if you are not managing your mental health properly. 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 weight loss success if you never learned how to cope with these emotions in a healthy manner. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of certain addictions after bariatric surgery that may impact your overall health and weight loss goals. 

Addictions after Bariatric Surgery

Addiction is characterized as uncontrolled behavioral patterns that, almost always, negatively impact your health. Addiction 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 the result of impulse control. If a patient has not dealt with these conditions before bariatric surgery, we strongly recommend they learn how to cope with their impulses and addictions before having their procedure done. As the surgery begins to bring more stress to your life, some people may go back to their addictions after bariatric surgery and use substances they previously used to rely on to handle their emotions.

Similarly, patients 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 addictions after bariatric surgery regardless of whether they identify with having a food addiction. 

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 years down the road and have lost a significant amount of weight, experiencing better health, but now suffering from an addiction. 

How to Break Addictions 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

Addictions 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.

This article was originally published on the Bariatric Centers of America blog