Substance abuse centers nationwide report increasing numbers of weight-loss surgery patients seeking help with new addictions, such as alcoholism, gambling addiction or compulsive shopping. Psychologists call the phenomenon "addiction transfer," meaning that former overeaters transfer their addiction to food to an addiction to something else.
Roughly 140,000 bariatric surgeries are performed in the United States every year, and weight loss surgery centers report addiction transfer in anywhere from five to 30 percent of patients. Some doctors dismiss the problem as mere coincidence, but others say the major physical changes a weight-loss surgery patient undergoes can affect their mental capacities and activate substance abuse problems.
One of the more serious addictions is alcoholism, as many weight-loss surgeries section off a part of the stomach to bypass the first section of the small intestine, which results in alcohol being passed rapidly into the bloodstream.
Bankole Johnson, chairman of the University of Virginia's department of psychiatric medicine, says weight-loss surgery represents a physical solution to a problem caused by an underlying mental problem that isn't healed by the surgery: "It's like a thirst. If you're thirsty -- and there's no water -- you'll drink lemonade," Johnson says.
Natural health advocates say bariatric surgery is unnecessary and dangerous. They argue that that only altering the problematic lifestyle choices that lead to obesity in the first place -- poor diet and lack of exercise -- can treat both the physical and mental issues that lead to overeating and obesity.
"What this addiction-transfer phenomenon indicates," explains consumer health advocate Mike Adams, "is that obesity is certainly not caused by a person having too much stomach tissue. Overeating is a symptom of a deeper mind-body problem, and if you force a person to stop overeating, then of course that underlying problem will find a new way to express itself." Adams calls conventional medicine, "clueless about how to actually help patients heal" and regards bariatric surgery as a, "barbaric procedure that maims patients for life."