Weight Loss Surgery and Addiction Transfer

Preventing Addiction Transfer after Weight Loss Surgery

Science is currently seeking ways, from behavioral to pharmaceutical inventions, to prevent addiction transfer from occurring after weight loss surgery.

Ensuring patients undergo adequate psychological screening before bariatric surgery is a potentially preventive measure that is getting more attention lately. These screenings can help ensure that people undergoing these procedures have a low level of addictive behavior. Physicians should also emphasize the need for ongoing behavioral counseling to prevent the development of new undesirable behaviors. People need to understand what drove them to overeat initially and learn new skills to deal with underlying issues like loneliness, stress, traumas, and so forth.

In addition to counseling, support groups have proven to be beneficial because they put people into contact with others like themselves who are able to ease some of the isolation and shame they feel regarding their predicament. Participants also feel encouraged by the progress others are making. There are several support groups that deal with food and drinking addictions.

  • Overeaters Anonymous (O.A.)
  • Food Addicts Anonymous (F.A.A.)
  • Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (F.A.)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)

Clinical trials examining the effectiveness of various drug therapies are also underway. Topomax, a drug originally developed to treat epilepsy, has shown some promise as a treatment for alcohol abuse and compulsive overeating. The antidepressant Wellbutrin and the smoking cessation drug Zyban have demonstrated potential as treatments for gambling, overeating, and nicotine dependence. Many other drugs specifically designed to treat compulsive behaviors are currently under development and testing.

Weight loss surgery does not cause addictions. Instead, people who are addicted to food may find a new compulsion once they are unable to overeat. The lesson to be learned from addiction transfer is that to lose weight successfully and keep the weight off, you must find a way to treat the cause of your food addiction.

Dieting and surgery will treat the symptom – obesity, but not the issues that caused you to overeat initially.

To improve your odds of success, you need to be honest with your surgeon about your eating habits and other lifestyle issues before and after surgery, and you need to participate in the behavioral programs prescribed. With openness and hard work, you can set yourself free from your old habits and body weight.

“Addiction transfer” is a term coined by psychologists involved in substance abuse treatment. It refers to the tendency for people who relapse after being treated for one form of substance abuse to develop a compulsion for another substance or harmful behavior. For example, a person with a history of alcoholism may give up drinking, but may start using prescription painkillers or gambling excessively.