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Obese patients who have gastric bypass surgery for weight loss may have a higher risk of developing alcohol problems, according to a large study released on Monday.

* Abuse rate climbed 2 percent after surgery

* More frequent after gastric bypasses, in younger men

* Specialist says shouldn’t deter obese people from procedures

* In 2009, 220,000 U.S. operations cost about $20,000 each

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Although the rate of alcohol abuse climbed only 2 percent after the procedures, this translates into more than 2,000 new cases of abuse every year in the United States, according to the findings, which were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery in San Diego.

They were also published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For the study, Wendy King of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues followed nearly 2,000 patients who had undergone a weight-loss procedure, including gastric bypass surgery and gastric banding, in which a silicone band is placed around the top portion of the stomach to restrict food intake.

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People in the study answered questions about their drinking habits before surgery and again one and/or two years later. The team then rated the alcohol use on a scale developed by the World Health Organization to measure alcohol use disorders.

Before surgery, 7.6 percent of the patients had drinking problems, but two years after surgery, it had increased to 9.6 percent.

Patients described having more symptoms of dependence – such as needing a drink in the morning or failing to meet normal expectations – and more alcohol-related harms, such as black-outs, feelings of guilt or injuring someone.

More than half of the 167 patients who had developed drinking problems after surgery had not abused alcohol prior to their operations, suggesting the surgery played a role.

Alcohol issues were particularly common in those who had gastric bypass, known as Roux-en-Y, and in younger men.

More than 220,000 Americans had some type of weight-loss surgery in 2009, at a price of about $20,000 per patient, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

SOURCE: bit.ly/L92706 Journal of the American Medical Association, online June 18, 2012.

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