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Why one drink is really two when you’ve had WLS

People who’ve had weight loss surgery are warned about drinking alcohol. The buzz can be way more intense, and so are the effects on your body.

But what do you do when it’s time to have a celebratory drink?

It’s important to be more mindful when you have a significantly smaller digestive system because every drink you have is really two.

Here’s why.

About 20% of the alcohol you drink is absorbed into the bloodstream via the stomach. A normal-sized stomach can easily hold a couple of alcoholic drinks and a full meal. Food in the stomach slows alcohol absorption as the alcohol isn’t always directly in contact with the stomach lining.

It also slows the progress of the digestive tract so food can take hours to finally arrive in the intestines.

The intestines are designed to quickly absorb alcohol into the bloodstream – significantly faster than the stomach – and get it to the liver for processing.

In a standard stomach, the slower digestion rate means alcohol is arriving in the liver in a slow, steady trickle and there’s usually more than enough capacity to handle it without causing adverse effects on the body.



Strike 1
Most people who’ve had weight loss surgery practice what they’re told or physically have to leave 20-30 minutes between having a drink and eating. That means there’s often no food in the digestive system to dilute the alcohol or slow its absorption through the stomach lining.

Strike 2
A gastric sleeve stomach gets full very quickly – one drink may be its entire volume. It gets pushed into your intestines very quickly in concentrated form, often in just minutes. If you’ve had a complete bypass, it’s even faster.

A 2002 UK study compared blood alcohol levels of gastric bypass patients to people with standard stomachs drinking the same volume of alcohol. It found people who’d had a bypass had alcohol levels that were around 50% higher than someone with a standard stomach after just 10 minutes. It took 30 minutes for people with a standard stomach to reach the same level.

Strike 3
When alcohol reaches the intestines, it’s immediately directed into the bloodstream and sent to the liver. It means alcohol is pouring into the liver in a far more concentrated form and at a rate that’s too fast for it to process.

So it backs up in your bloodstream, affecting you as if you’d had twice as much alcohol.

There are many cases around the world of weight loss patients failing drink-driving tests by high margins after having just one glass of an alcoholic drink.

5 tips if you want to drink alcohol

  • Have something non-alcoholic between each drink

  • Be mindful of how fast you’re drinking – try to slow it down as much as possible

  • Be careful with high-alcohol drinks such as spirits as these are vastly more potent than beer or wine

  • Turn your drink into a spritzer, e.g. half wine, half soda water

  • Don’t drive, even if you’ve only had a small amount of alcohol and even after food. The levels of alcohol in your bloodstream will be substantially higher than those of someone with a standard-sized stomach and you could easily fail a breathalyser test.

Copyright: Kate Berridge,, 2024


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