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Five Points to Help You Understand Transfer Addiction Following Bariatric Surgery

Five Points to Help You Understand Transfer Addiction Following Bariatric Surgery

Dec 06, 2021 Alex Brecher

Bariatric surgery is a life-changing experience in so many ways. It can help you eat less and lose weight. It can give you back your health and functionality. And as it takes the focus away from food, it can lead to something called transfer addiction.

Here’s the thing. For many bariatric surgery patients, food was an addiction before surgery. It may have been a chemical addiction, making you crave certain foods such as carbohydrates or salty foods. And it could have been an emotional addiction, leading to turning to food and eating when you were sad, lonely, excited, nervous, bored, or anything else. 

After a weight loss surgery procedure, using food as a solution is not really an option. It will make you sick if you eat too much. And it goes against the bariatric surgery post-op diet, which has you eating less and using food as fuel rather than a friend or activity.

Sometimes, taking away the food addiction leads to development of a replacement addiction, or a transfer addiction. Transfer addictions are a real risk for post-op bariatric surgery patients, but a little bit of preparation and understanding can go a long way. Here are five points to help you understand transfer addictions.

  • Most bariatric surgery patients do not develop transfer addictions.
  • Rumors may fly, but the truth is that only a minority of bariatric surgery patients develop transfer addictions. Most do not. In fact, only 30 percent of patients, or less than 1 in 3, develop transfer addictions. Still, that is a high enough proportion that you should be aware of the possibility of developing one, and prepared to deal with it if it happens.

  • Some patients are at higher risk than others.
  • Anyone can develop a transfer addiction, but there are some risk factors that increase the likelihood of it happening to a specific person. For example, people who have a history of eating disorders or compulsive eating, regular high alcohol consumption, mood disorders, or self-harm tend to be at higher risk for developing transfer addictions. A family history of drug abuse and lack of sufficient support are also risk factors.

  • Replacement addictions can be harmful.
  • Some replacement addictions can be harmful. For example, turning to alcohol, drugs, or other substances instead of food can lead to accidents and health problems. Gambling addictions can also surface, leading to financial and possibly emotional instability. Even a shopping addiction is possible; while it is not as imminently threatening as substance abuse, it can lead to financial harm and trouble with relationships. 

  • There are certain ways to recognize a transfer addiction.
  • You may not always realize that you are developing a transfer addiction, especially if you are very focused on weight loss after bariatric surgery. You may have an addiction if you notice that you need more of the activity or substance to get the same effect, or if you use more than you had expected. Or, you may notice social, personal, or financial problems as the result of the behavior, or other people may start to ask questions about what they perceive as unusual behavior.

  • Help is available in a variety of places.
  • It is important to know where to get help and to seek it instead of trying to hide the behavior or isolate yourself. Your bariatric surgery or healthcare provider can point you in the direction of resources. A trusted friend or family member may be a good place to start. And support groups can help you identify troublesome behaviors and come up with strategies for replacing them with healthier ones.

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