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Keywords:

  • Weight loss surgery;
  • substance abuse;
  • addiction;
  • alcohol dependence

Summary

What is already known about this subject

  • Elevated rates of substance use disorders (SUDs), particularly (but not only) alcohol use, are observed among post-weight loss surgery (WLS) patients.
  • The development of SUDs among post-WLS patients typically occurs 1–2 years post-surgery.
  • Post-WLS patients are developing SUD at a much later time of life than is typical of SUDs in the general population, suggesting they constitute a distinct SUD phenotype that is directly related to having undergone WLS.

What this study adds

  • Overall, findings suggest that post-WLS patients are overrepresented in substance abuse treatment programmes, and the majority of them report no history of SUD before WLS.
  • Relative to non-WLS patients in SUD treatment, post-WLS patients in substance abuse treatment are disproportionally diagnosed with alcohol dependence, including alcohol withdrawal.
  • Post-WLS patients may be at elevated risk for development of New Onset SUD in the absence of a prior SUD history; this group is phenotypically different from those with a history of substance abuse prior to surgery, and such patients may have unique treatment needs.

A comprehensive substance abuse treatment facility began observing increased admissions who reported histories of weight loss surgery (WLS). Emerging evidence suggests that roughly half of post-WLS patients in substance abuse treatment developed their substance use disorder (SUD) after surgery. The present study examined differences between SUD patients who developed New Onset SUD after surgery and those with a reported SUD onset before WLS (SUD Hx+ group). Participants completed a questionnaire and participated in a semi-structured interview. Data were also obtained from participants’ electronic medical records. Of the total treatment sample (n = 4658), 2.8% reported a history of WLS. Post-WLS patients were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Among post-WLS patients who were interviewed (n = 56), 60% were classified as New Onset SUD, while only 40% were SUD Hx+. SUD Hx+ cases reported using significantly more types of substances than New Onset cases and were more likely to report pre-surgical binge eating disorder (BED). Post-WLS patients are overrepresented in substance abuse treatment and are disproportionally diagnosed AUDs. Post-WLS patients may be at elevated risk for development of New Onset SUD at a time in life (middle age) when SUD onset is relatively uncommon.