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Understanding Transfer Addiction After Weight Loss Surgery
LICR Blog

Understanding Transfer Addiction After Weight Loss Surgery

Food addiction is just as afflicting and debilitating as any other destructive addiction or habit. It takes away from individuals’ quality of life, and sadly end lives far sooner than they should. One positive variance that exists for those plagued by food addiction is bariatric surgery. Those overcome by weight and food addiction can physically improve their quality of life with this surgery, but if only the physical nature of their addiction is addressed, only bariatric surgery becomes a partial solution. This is where we find ourselves. Nearly 250,000 Americans each year improve their lives with bariatric surgery, but as much as 30% of those individuals experience what’s called, transfer addiction. Simply put, transfer addiction is defined exactly as it sounds, an addict takes one addiction, and transfers it to another. Transfer addiction is a slippery slope, as it perpetuates an endless cycle of addiction, but it’s one that we at Long Island Center for Recovery will climb together with you as we delve deeper into transfer addiction.

Why Does Transfer Addiction Occur?

We focus on transfer addiction after weight loss surgery, but transfer addiction can occur with any addictive habit. So, you may be asking, why the focus on bariatric surgery? That answer directly relates to the suspected cause for transfer addiction. There’s no exact answer written in stone, as each individual’s story is all their own, but a consistent trend with transfer addiction is that it tends to occur when momentary success is achieved, but the root cause of an individual’s addiction goes unresolved. With this definition, we can now see why transfer addiction is commonly associated with bariatric surgery. The procedure aims to solve the physical, but bariatric surgery alone will not address why food addiction occurred in the first place. For other forms of addiction, either process (such as gambling and sex) or drug and alcohol related, there is no physical surgery that can provide immediate relief and solution. This makes kicking the habit a longer road for addictions outside of food but the same potential and risk of transfer addiction is associated with all addictions.

What Should You Do To Reduce The Risk of Transfer Addiction?

This is the reason why pre-surgical procedure for bariatric surgery requires individuals to meet with a psychologist, in order to properly evaluate all sources of their addiction and compulsive eating prior to surgery. Still, as we have seen with other addictions, sobriety and solutions do not come over night. Even this meeting prior to bariatric surgery is a required step but not a guarantee that your addictive behaviors will be gone for good once the food portion is addressed. Another area deterring the effectiveness of this required evaluation is the fact that individuals lives are at stake. Obesity is a life-threatening condition, and psychologists must weigh the positives of a potentially life saving surgery, against the fear and risks associated with their addiction, which must always be considered. With that in mind, here is a simple list to try to help individuals avoid the pitfalls of transfer addiction.

• Honor The Psychologist Meeting Prior to Bariatric Surgery: Many individuals see this as a barrier to their potentially life-saving surgery, and treat the meeting as a pass or fail experience. Individuals may feel inclined to curb their answers, and say what they think may get them approved for surgery. Our humble suggestion would be to treat this meeting with your long-term health in mind. Be honest and open, to increase the effectiveness of your weight loss surgery, and limit your risk not only for transfer addiction, but the avoidance of a second bariatric surgery later on in life.
• Seek Professional and Social Help: Therapy and support groups are extremely helpful for all facets of addiction. They can provide the tools for long-term solutions, help prevent relapse, transference of addiction, and give you peace of mind and serenity in life. Support can come in many ways, from Anonymous Groups, 12 Step Programs, Trauma Groups, to simple family and friends. The key is to be open, honest, and reach out when you think you need help.
• Adopt Health Habits: Fill your time with healthy habits that improve your outlook and make you feel better inside and out. This doesn’t mean to force yourself to become a marathon runner, that’s not for everyone but any habit that you can confidently say improves on your life as a whole, is a healthy one. Exercising is an easy fill, but meditating, reading, crafting, journaling, playing board games or puzzles, just to name a few ideas.
• Be Observant and Honest: Seek the signs of transfer addiction. You may think a habit healthy at first, a positive replacement to a prior compulsion, but continually check-in with yourself. Maybe a book club became associated with casual drinking , which evolved into the daily consumption of alcohol. The signs can easily be overlooked or misconstrued, so staying observant and leaning on a trusted support group can be extremely helpful.

We hope you found this information helpful and now have a deeper understanding of transfer addiction. If you or a loved one needs any additional assistance with addiction treatment services, please reach out to Long Island Center for Recovery at 631-728-3100, and we’d be happy to assist you or your loved ones in any way possible.

References:
Obesity Action Coalition

Transfer Addiction Following Bariatric Surgery

American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery
https://asmbs.org/ Kim S, et al “Variation in bariatric surgery utilization by state from 2010 to 2019: Analysis of the PearlDiver Mariner database” ASMBS 2021.

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