Addiction Transfer

There’s a bit of a phenomenon that can happen after bariatric surgery and it’s called addiction transfer. For some bariatric surgery patients part of the reason they got morbidly obese in the first place was through being addicted to food. There’s many things that can drive this and if the reasons for it are not dealt with this addiction can transfer onto something else after surgery.

There are a few things that this addiction transfer can transfer onto. The obvious ones are cigarettes and alcohol but it can also move to things like shopping, gambling, sex or I guess anything that brings you pleasure and helps you deal with your emotions. If you have had bariatric surgery or are considering it this is something you be aware and mindful of.

I feel that I went into bariatric surgery with my eyes wide open and I had read about addiction transfer and what kinds of things that can encompass before my gastric bypass. As a wee example of how this happens without you even noticing is that before my surgery I had six lipsitcks and lip glosses combined. I now have upwards of 70 and my collection grew very quickly around 3-9 months after my gastric bypass.

It’s not until you take away the thing you used to rely on to comfort you, calm you down or help you when you’re feeling down that you realise how much you used to rely on it. For many of us with these addictive tendancies in our personalities this isn’t going to go away overnight and we need to come up with some healthy ways to manage our emotions and feelings without falling into another equally or even more harmful way of dealing with getting through life.

What really struck me is that this is more common in women and alcohol addiction is a risk factor for women especially after gastric bypass. I can see how this happens though. If you’re having a rough day with food and nothing is going down okay alcohol, being liquid is not going to give you any problems. It calms you down and helps you to relax and getting to that point is often what we used to use food for.

Looking at alcohol in particular I was advised to stay away from it by my surgical team for the first year at least. I almost suceeded at this but had a few drinks about six weeks before my first year anniversary of my surgery because it was New Years. I do think this is very important though and I did come to accept before my surgery that alcohol would not play a big part in my life after bariatric surgery.

Over the last few months I had got into the habit of drinking on Friday and Saturday nights. It wasn’t always a lot but usually a couple of glasses of wine which for me, after surgery, is enough to make me feel a bit more than tipsy. When I realised I had got to the point that I was hanging out for my wine each week and started feeling like I couldn’t go without it I knew I was at the top of a slippery slope.

At my two year post surgery checkup my bariatric nurse also pointed out to me that cirrosis of the liver due to alcohol is more of a risk after bariatric surgery because of the previous load the liver had on it (fatty liver) when I was morbidly obese. This was a bit of a wake up call and I knew I needed to get on top of it. I now do not buy alcohol out of habit and the first weekend I went without totally I missed it. What I was pleased to find was that I felt better in the mornings and Monday morning wasn’t such a drag because I had treated my body better over the weekend.

The second weekend without I didn’t miss it one bit. Then for whatever reason on the third week I had a drink again and I have to admit one glass was enough and I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as I thought I had been. I know that I tend to be all or nothing with things and I have a bit of an obsessive personality. For me not drinking isn’t a problem and I am back at that point where having a drink is the exception not the rule.

There are other reasons why addiction transfer can develop though and sometimes it can be to cope with how your body is changing and how your relationships have changed. Literally everything in your life is affected by bariatric surgery and it’s important to have good support around you to help minimise the impact of these things on you emotionally.

After surgery you need to be really honest with yourself and be mindful of how things are affecting you. It’s important to reflect and let yourself be aware of how you are feeling within yourself and how you are dealing with the hard stuff. I had my bariatric surgery to help me in not being able to overeat and to have a physical restriction on how much sugar and fat I could ingest. Being aware that the surgery doesn’t make you endlessly happy and take all the bad days away is a really good start.

Addiction transfer is something to be mindful of because the last thing you want after having bariatric surgery to help you manage your weight is to end up addicted to something else. If you feel you need professional help with this then you should see a counsellor or psychologist who will be able to help you come up with some strategies to deal with your emotional and ups and downs in a healthier way for you.

Use your time leading up to bariatric surgery to become more mindful of how and what emotionally drives you to eat. After surgery the first year is the best time to create new healthier habits and get on top of your relationship with food. Your surgical team will be a great help and will have some good suggestions for you in how to recognise and deal with this. But as I suggested above if you need a bit more help to get there there is no harm in talking to someones else to make sure you stay on the right track.

Were you aware of addiction transfer in relation to bariatric surgery? Is this something you have struggled with or recognised could be a risk for you? Comment below I’d like to hear about your experience.

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There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Nerida at 8:36 am

    Hi Melissa – another great post. Yes, I was aware of addiction transfer and for me that certainly went into shopping. It was necessary at first because of my rapidly changing size but now that I have settled down as far as reaching my goal weight and size, it became an issue that I was shopping to make myself feel better. Financially that put pressure on us. I’m working very closely with a counsellor and my partner to ensure that my spending is back under control. I think no matter how hard we try we all find something to transfer our food addiction to and its a matter of recognising this, and working to bring it back under control. Well done on getting your alcohol consumption under control. You’re such a terrific role model. I love how honest you are and that you don’t sugar coat the facts of post bariatric life. It has certainly helped me and made me more aware of what I could/are facing and helped me reach out to the resources I have available to me to assist me in my post bariatric surgery life (like my nurse practitioner, counsellor and dietician).

    • Melissa Peaks Author at 1:16 pm

      Thanks for your comment Nerida. It’s great to see you recognised it for what it is and are working on making sure you get it back under control. I really don’t see how I could do this without being honest. I don’t want to mislead people into thinking it’s easy all the time and there’s serious stuff like this that people really need to know beforehand. It’s always a good idea to use the help of your team if you feel you need it and you’re doing such a great job after your surgery Nerida you really should be proud of yourself! Thank you for reading and commenting I really appreciate it!

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