Bariatric Realities – Medical Professionals’ Guidelines about Alcohol Use & WLS

I know I said my next article was going to be on causes of obesity, but I got carried away tonight doing some investigating about the professional medical guidelines for alcohol use after weight loss surgery. In summary, the gist of the recommendations are: “Patients undergoing bariatric surgery should be screened and educated regarding alcohol intake both before and after surgery… patients should be made aware that alcohol use disorders (AUD) can occur in the long term after bariatric surgery.” (From:

Well, now. Those are some non-specific medical recommendations by medical professionals who are the predominant leaders and caregivers of the surgical weight loss population. Education and awareness. Hey – I am all about education and awareness. Great things, education and awareness.

And yet, I’m gonna say that as a recommendation, that is a very “PC” non-recommendation recommendation, when one considers that we are talking about 1) ALCOHOL and 2) WEIGHT LOSS SURGERY patients.

Consider these educational nuggets and facts I found that WLS patients really ought to be aware of:

·      Psychologist Stanton Peele, writes, “readers now know that scientifically, it's not alcohol that causes people to live longer, but it is simply being with others and that they are less socially isolated when they drink that prolongs their lives. After all, alcohol is a toxin.” (italics and bold added) (From

My comments: Yes – alcohol is a toxin, and that means POISON. Those of us in the medical field really ought to know that people are not supposed to ingest poison. But the recommendations do not say, “Do NOT ingest the toxin, alcohol.” No, no, no… they say be educated and aware.

·      Dr. Charles S. Lieber, M.D., M.A.C.P., in a publication for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, writes, “A complex interplay exists between a person’s alcohol consumption and nutritional status,” and … alcohol and its metabolism prevent the body from properly absorbing, digesting, and using essential nutrients” (italics added.) Dr. Lieber does indeed, educate us about the nutritional value of alcohol: Alcohol would not fall under the category of an essential nutrient because not having it in your diet does not lead to any sort of deficiency. Alcoholic beverages primarily consist of water, pure alcohol (chemically known as ethanol), and variable amounts of sugars (i.e., carbohydrates); their content of other nutrients (e.g., proteins, vitamins, or minerals) is usually negligible.  Because they provide almost no nutrients, alcoholic beverages are considered ‘empty calories.’ Therefore, any calories provided by alcoholic beverages are derived from the carbohydrates and alcohol they contain.”  (italics added)

My comments: People who have weight loss surgery (other than the band) experience absorption issues to one degree or another. Nutritional deficiency is one of the concerns the medical professionals monitor in the months and years following WLS. We stress to patients the importance of taking vitamin supplements for the rest of their lives to help ensure proper nutritional balance.

And yet, rather than saying, “Alcohol use is unwise after WLS,” or “Don’t drink alcohol after WLS,” the governing body of health professionals for bariatric surgery recommends being “educated” and “aware.”

Is that happening? Are the physicians and surgeons and nutritionists and mental health professionals educating patients and making patients aware that ALCOHOL IS A TOXIN THAT CAN INTERFERE WITH VITAMIN ABSORPTION – and it should not be consumed after weight loss surgery? I can’t answer that, although I know we do this at the programs I work with. If it’s not happening, why not?

Having a background in direct sales, which, ironically, was incredible education for my later career as a psychologist, I was taught to “anticipate the objections.” Many health care professionals may be pooh-pooh’ing the vitamin deficiency issue associated with alcohol, stating it’s only those who drink heavily who are at risk for this type of vitamin deficiency. That information, to the best of my knowledge, is relevant for persons who have not had weight loss surgery. What’s more, we don’t know the extent to which people are drinking many years after WLS. Most of the research, as noted in the ASMBS Guidelines/Statements entitled ASMBS position statement on alcohol use before and after bariatric surgery, states, “The existing studies do not present a uniform picture regarding the overall prevalence of lifetime or current alcohol use disorders (AUD) in patients seeking bariatric surgery. The vast majority of the existing literature is retrospective, with small sample sizes, lack of control groups, and low response rates. There are also varying definitions of alcohol disorders (“high-risk” versus “misuse” versus “abuse/dependence”) in the bariatric surgery literature.” In other words, this research does provide some information, but remember, we don’t really know that much because there isn’t enough research on enough people over a long enough period of time. We don’t then, know the actual affect that alcohol use has on vitamin absorption for WLS patients. We DO know that vitamin deficiency is a concern, so WHY aren’t we telling people not to drink?

Not only is alcohol a toxin for our bodies,

·      “Alcohol is actually classified as a drug and is a known depressant. Under this category, it is the most widely used drug in the world. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)” (italics and underling added).

My comments: I am literally chuckling now at the absurdity of this situation. The situation being the medical professionals, all having a code of ethics that reflects the “do no harm” sentiment, ignoring potential harm for their patients. Please note that we would all consider alcohol as being “empty calories” and having sugar/carbohydrates and certainly no protein.

PLEASE let it be the case that the medical professionals around the world who deal with surgical weight loss patients are telling them, “Don’t eat empty calories. Eat a lot of protein. Limit the simple carbs and sugar. And refrain from consuming your calories from liquids. NO STARBUCKS. BUT, HEY - GO AHEAD AND DRINK THOSE SUGAR/CARB LADEN, EMPTY, NUTRITION-ROBBING TOXIC CALORIES IN ALCOHOL, THAT ARE, BY THE WAY, THE MOST WIDELY ABUSED DRUG IN THE WORLD.”

Honestly, that sentence should be the entire article.

But WAIT! There’s MORE!

I really love this last tidbit I’ll share with you. It’s so much nicer for me when I can find it online so it’s not that mean, alcohol-hating Dr. Stapleton being the one to blame!

·      “The truth is that no one needs alcohol to live, so regardless of what you've heard or want to believe, alcohol is not essential in our diets. Did you know that a glass of wine can have the same calories as four cookies? How about a pint of lager – surprised to hear it’s often the caloric equivalent of a slice of pizza? You do not need to be an alcoholic for alcohol to interfere with your health and life.”

Do you hear this, people in the medical profession? Are you giving the OK for your patients to eat four cookies “now and then,” or “in moderation,” or “not for the first six months, or year after surgery?” Do you realize that you may be DOING HARM by giving your patients “permission” to drink alcohol?

“But our job is not to be the watchdog or decision-maker for people.” Another potential objection to my dismay about the recommendations being for “education” and “awareness,” rather than a direct, “SAY NO TO ALCOHOL” stance. I agree that no one can make the decisions about what people can or cannot do, or what they will or will not do. People in the medical field do tell people things like, “Don’t get that wet or you could get an infection,” “Keep the splint on for the next six weeks if you want to heal properly.” There ARE dos and don’ts that are educational and increase awareness. What’s the real issue that medical professionals don’t take a hard stance on alcohol after WLS? I don’t know. I do know that I did my dissertation on medical doctor’s attitudes toward addiction. Turns out it is much like that of their attitudes toward obesity: many don’t know that much about it, very many do not feel comfortable working with it, and most don’t care about/understand it.

To top it all off, HERE’s the real kicker… Not only do the medical AND some of the WLS organizations not tell people, “Don’t drink alcohol,” THEY PROVIDE ALCOHOL AT THEIR EVENTS!

I can’t say any more.

Connie Stapleton, PhD
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