Addiction Transfer After Gastric Bypass Surgery - The Hidden Danger

To conquer the problem of excessive weight gain and cases of obesity, many Americans turn to gastric bypass surgery to eliminate the extra pounds in hopes of a better life. Unfortunately, these patients are also vulnerable to several vices if food addiction is left unaddressed.   

While some people gain excessive amounts of weight because of a health condition, drugs or simply a lack of exercise, others are trapped in the throes of food addiction fueled by underlying emotional triggers. When emotional turmoil and poor coping habits are still a part of daily living, being unable to turn to food after surgery means many pursue other harmful and self-destructive behaviors with what's known as 'addiction transfer'.  

Understanding the Consequences of Food Addiction

The consequences of food addiction are often difficult to hide; excessive weight gain, constant weight fluctuations and a preoccupation with food are just a few characteristics of food addiction in full force, and most people become trapped in a futile cycle of weight gain, dieting and exercising. Eating healthier foods and engaging in a regular exercise may help with weight loss, but the compulsive tendencies of the individual tend to stick. Experts suggest that food addiction is rarely about food and eating, but is a coping mechanism for managing painful feelings.   

According to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, “Food addiction involves the repetitive consumption of food against the individuals better judgment resulting in loss of control and preoccupation or the restriction of food and preoccupation with body weight and image.”  

Many obese patients seeking gastric bypass surgery and other weight loss procedures are really tackling more than those extra pounds. Without an effective coping mechanism and support system in place before the procedure, many end up turning to other addictions in order to cope with stress, boredom, frustration or simply managing their emotions.  

Addiction Transfer and the Gastric Bypass Patient  

Aetna InteliHealth, a resource for health news and research discusses the dangers of compulsive behaviors in the article, Overeating Replaced with Other Compulsive Behaviors.

According to Kathryn Friedman Sloan, a mental health counselor in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, "The problem is that many people who have surgery haven't been in therapy to address the issues behind their eating disorder. Most of them are emotional eaters, and when you take that away, they're left with 'what do I do with my emotions?"  

Addiction transfer can be the answer for many, the mental and behavioral process of trading one addiction for another. For gastric bypass patients previously suffering from an eating disorder, the compulsive tendencies can turn into shopping addiction, compulsive gambling, compulsive spending or even smoking.  

Addressing Problems Before Gastric Bypass Surgery

Managing difficult feelings with healthier coping mechanisms, a support group, or professional counseling can help many people steer clear of compulsive habits and avoid addiction transfer after surgery. Many bariatric doctors refer patients to a psychotherapist before surgery to address any underlying mental health issues, and ensure that surgery is pursued for the right reasons. A healthy support network and resources for helping addiction-prone individuals manage life more effectively can lay the foundation for a healthier lifestyle.  

Learn more about weight loss counseling, or consult with a professional bariatric surgeon in your area to find out what types of long-term treatment programs are available.  In most cases, psychotherapy or counseling coupled with surgery can provide the best results and reduce the risk of addiction transfer for the long-term.