Can You Enjoy Alcohol After Bariatric Surgery?

Four friends holding alcoholic drinks high together

Bariatric patients must make significant changes in their lives after their procedure. Most welcome these changes knowing the goal is worth the sacrifice. With many of our celebrations revolving around alcohol, it can be difficult for bariatric patients to reconcile the prospect of a life without a drink here or there. Fortunately, alcohol consumption is a nuanced but ultimately acceptable option after bariatric surgery, with a few rules and caveats. So, let’s jump into how exactly a bariatric patient (and especially a gastric bypass patient) can and should consume alcohol and some of the potential problems and pitfalls that go along with it.

No Alcohol Within the First Six Months After Surgery:

The hard and fast rule for any bariatric patient is that they cannot drink alcohol in the first six months after their procedure. This is for several reasons, the first of which is irritation to the stomach pouch. Consuming alcohol during this time does not jive well with a recovering stomach. Second, alcohol reduces the absorption of critical nutrients and may cause an even greater risk of nutrient deficiency. In the first six months after surgery, when you are not eating as much as you will eventually, you need maximum absorption of the food and drink you consume.

From six months onward, we strongly suggest that while you can drink alcohol, you limit your intake as much as possible. A drink or two here and there should not be problematic, but there are several concerns associated with alcohol for bariatric patients.

  • First is the fact that you will likely become intoxicated sooner than you remember after your procedure. The alcohol you consume does not remain in the stomach pouch long enough to fully metabolize. Some bariatric patients report being impaired much sooner than they expect.
  • Second, alcohol is full of empty calories. This is especially true if you drink it with mixers. Even mixers containing artificial sweeteners can increase your cravings for sweets and put you on the wrong track.
  • Third, carbonated alcoholic beverages like beer can make you feel full sooner, irritate your pouch, and cause pain from the bubbles stretching the pouch. (Bloat)
  • Lastly, while relatively rare, there is a phenomenon known as addiction substitution. Some patients, for whom food was a crutch and a coping mechanism, may turn to substances of abuse to compensate. Alcohol is most certainly one of them. This is not to say that bariatric patients develop alcohol use disorders en masse, but it’s something to be aware of.

If You Want It, What Type of Alcohol Is Best?

This question should be answered by you based on your preferences. However, we can offer some advice:

  • Wine, especially red wine, contains beneficial chemicals and compounds, so moderation is your best bet.
  • Conversely, beer contains bubbles and carbohydrates, which can be problematic for a significantly smaller stomach.
  • As mentioned above, mixed drinks tend to have lots of sugar and can be diet-busters.
    Straight spirits in moderation can also be fine, but we encourage you not to overdo it.06

An Additional Concern

In addition to how alcohol reacts with your body and the calories it introduces to your diet, even minor impairment can take you away from the discipline you have built in your diet and exercise program. Patients who regularly consume alcohol tend not to follow their dietary programs quite as strictly and often find themselves in social situations where they eat, and drink more than they should. Similarly, alcohol is a diuretic, and many patients feel less than great the next day. It can detract from a patient’s newly formed lifestyle habits.

The Bottom Line

As with everything after bariatric surgery, we preach moderation. We want you to have your favorite foods and drinks, but we want you to know how they affect your long-term diet. Alcohol is not off limits after the first six months post-surgery. However, it must be consumed in moderation and mindfully to ensure you lose weight, reach your weight loss goals, and maintain them over the long term. Please let us know how we can help.