Alcohol can be safely enjoyed in many circumstances. But what about alcohol and surgery? Because both surgery and alcohol inflict stress on the body, the two don’t mix very well. What exactly are the risks that accompany drinking alcohol leading up to surgery and drinking alcohol after surgery? Keep reading to find out more information about the impact of alcohol on surgery and precautions you should take.
Alcohol Leading Up to Surgery
Here are some tips you need to know about drinking alcohol leading up to surgery.
1. Alcohol Impacts Liver Function
When we drink alcohol, it is sent to the liver for detoxification. Alcohol directly inflicts oxidative stress on liver cells, which can cause inflammation. Liver inflammation during surgery is not an ideal situation, since it can impede proper functioning during surgery.
2. Alcohol Interferes with Other Medications
Alcohol reduces the activity of the central nervous system and therefore interacts with general anesthesia and other medications that are usually used during surgery.
3. Alcohol Puts Stress on the Body
Overall, consuming a large quantity of alcohol puts stress on the body. Alcohol is a toxin, so when consumed, it inflicts damage on all tissues throughout the body. This added stress is unnecessary in addition to also undergoing stress from invasive surgery.
4. Alcohol May Elongate Inpatient Stay
A high alcohol intake leading up to surgery may actually elongate your hospital stay. Heavy drinking impairs proper healing while also increasing the risk of complications arising both during and immediately following surgery. Your healthcare team may advise you to remain in the hospital for close monitoring.
5. Alcohol-Related Liver Disease Interferes with Surgery
Fatty liver disease is a common condition among individuals who chronically consume large amounts of alcohol. Fatty liver disease is also known as hepatic steatosis and signifies the accumulation of fat within the liver. Without intervention, fatty liver disease can progress to more serious forms of liver disease like fibrosis, cirrhosis, and liver failure. Research shows that liver disease increases surgery risk since liver diseases are associated with conditions like malnutrition and infection. (1) Alcohol-related liver disease is often coupled with systemic inflammation, which may lead to an increased risk of complications during surgery.
Severe liver disease may even make surgery too risky. For example, if you want to undergo an elective cosmetic procedure and you have alcoholic liver disease, your plastic surgeon may simply deem the procedure too risky.
Alcohol After Surgery
Drinking alcohol after surgery can interfere with the healing process. Here are a few things that you need to know about alcohol after surgery.
1. Alcohol Suppresses the Immune System
Does alcohol hinder healing after surgery? Yes, it seems like alcohol elongates the healing process and slows down wound healing significantly. Alcohol has a negative effect on the healing process because it suppresses immune system function. The body is then not able to react effectively to injury. As a result, drinking can significantly impact healing time, making the recovery process way longer than it needs to be, in turn resulting in a longer hospital stay.
2. Alcohol Interacts with Pain Medication
Drinking in the days following surgery can have detrimental effects on the body because of the negative synergistic effects of combining alcohol and prescription painkillers. Depending on the nature of the surgery you receive, your physician will prescribe pain pills to manage your pain for up to a week following your procedure. Medications containing substances like oxycodone and hydrocodone are characterized as opioids, which are central nervous system depressants. This means that taking opioids not only numbs the pain but also slows breathing and heart rate.
Even combining alcohol with over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen can be very damaging to the body. The same liver enzyme is responsible for detoxifying both alcohol and acetaminophen, and both require a compound called glutathione to reduce their toxicity as they are broken down. If you are a chronic drinker, glutathione levels in the body are lower than usual, which leads to a higher risk of sustaining liver damage from acetaminophen.
Ibuprofen and alcohol can worsen stomach irritation and potentially lead to stomach ulcers and bleeding.
Proper pain management is a critical part of recovery, but it must be done in a healthy way. Combining opioids with alcohol can be lethal, and it’s best to resume drinking after you have stopped taking prescription or over-the-counter pain medicines.
3. Alcohol Has Different Effects for Different Surgeries
When you are assessing the impact of drinking, keep in mind that the effects of alcohol may be different depending on the type of surgery you have undergone.
For example, bariatric surgery severely restricts stomach size. Patients are often prone to acid reflux and other gastrointestinal disorders. Adding alcohol to the mix simply makes things worse by causing more inflammation and stomach irritation. Drinking can be very irritating to the digestive tract because alcohol stimulates the production of excess stomach acid, which can result in gastritis and gastroesophageal reflux disease after bariatric surgery.
Can you drink alcohol after heart bypass surgery? Moderate drinking is likely ok after recovering from heart bypass surgery. However, it’s important to avoid drinking during the initial recovery. Heart bypass surgery is a particularly long and invasive surgery, which may amplify the after-effects of general anesthesia. Once cleared by your doctor, moderate drinking is ok for patients who have undergone heart bypass surgery. Though it might seem counterintuitive, moderate consumption of alcohol may actually have protective effects for individuals with coronary artery disease. The key here is that you do not exceed the recommended daily intake. For men, the recommended safe intake is two drinks per day, while for women it is one drink.
4. Alcohol Negates the Positive Effects of Healthy Food
This one is more applicable if you are drinking vast quantities of alcohol. If you are drinking heavily, your body will not be able to effectively utilize nutrients. Instead, the body will spend all of its energy trying to process and detoxify alcohol, instead of shuttling vital nutrients where they need to go.
Food plays an important role in supporting recovery, especially micronutrients, fiber, and protein with balanced ratios of essential amino acids. It’s best not to allow alcohol to get in the way of the recovery process.
5. Alcohol May Impact Clotting
Does alcohol thin your blood? Yes, it has been shown that alcohol may inhibit blood clotting. This aspect of alcohol is indeed a double-edged sword. Thinner blood may decrease the risk of developing blood clots after surgery, which tends to occur as a result of prolonged periods of sitting and lying down. On the other hand, thinner blood may also increase the risk of excessive bleeding following surgery.
Even though the anti-clotting benefits of alcohol appear true, it is still best to avoid alcohol until you have the all-clear. If your surgeon is concerned about clotting, he or she will prescribe blood thinners such as coumadin.
6. Increases the Risk of Infection
Alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk of developing an infection after surgery. Alcohol behaves as an immunosuppressant and decreases the activity of neutrophils and T cells, which are crucial for immune function. (2) Without a properly functioning immune system, the body faces more difficulty warding off foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses, which can lead to a full-blown infection following surgery.
Tips for Managing Your Alcohol Intake Around Your Surgery
If you enjoy moderate drinking, it’s important to have guidelines for curbing your drinking to support a healthy recovery.
1. It’s Always Safer to Avoid Drinking Until Cleared
If you’re unsure whether you should drink, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and avoid drinking. Your physician always has the ultimate say regarding when you can start drinking again. Always follow your physician’s advice.
2. Attend Follow-Up Appointments and Ask Questions
Attending follow-up appointments is important to make sure that your recovery process is on the right track. When you are in your surgeon’s office for follow-up appointments, ask questions about your care, recovery process, steps you can take to expedite healing, as well as any concerns you might have. Your surgeon will examine the surgical site and make sure that you are making progress as expected. A follow-up appointment is a perfect time to ask about when it’s safe to add alcohol back into your routine.
What to Know If You Are a Heavy Drinker
The effects of alcohol on surgery are strongly dependent on the amount of alcohol that you consume. Heavy, chronic consumption of alcohol negatively impacts your surgery and recovery, as well as your overall health.
1. Always Inform Your Healthcare Team of Your Drinking Patterns
If you drink heavily, it’s crucial that you are open and honest with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare team needs full information about your health and habits so that your care can be properly planned and coordinated.
2. Seek Help for Detox
If you find it challenging or impossible to stop drinking, your healthcare team can connect you with resources to help you manage alcohol detox and treatment for alcoholism. If you are dependent on alcohol, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Seek help as soon as you can to cut drinking out of your daily routine and help your body cleanse. Once you have undergone detox, your body will be much better equipped to handle a surgical procedure and the recovery process.
Keep in mind that if you drink three or more alcoholic beverages per day, you are at risk for experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop drinking following surgery. Mild alcohol withdrawal is characterized by fever, fast heart rate, sweating, vomiting, blood pressure fluctuations, and difficulty sleeping. More severe alcohol withdrawal is characterized by seizures, hallucinations, and confusion, and can be fatal.
3. Eat Healthy Foods
If you are a heavy drinker, cutting out drinking and eating an abundance of healthy foods will help your body heal from both alcohol use and surgery.
To support healing, enjoy an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are packed with antioxidants like polyphenols and carotenoids that help reverse alcohol-induced oxidative damage as well as promote recovery of the surgical site. Essential amino acids found in protein sources help promote muscle synthesis and repair. Whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish also help fight against oxidative stress and inflammation.
4. Detox and Recovery Is Important Regardless of Surgery
Regardless of whether you plan to undergo surgery, detoxing from alcohol is critical to support long-term health and longevity. Chronic alcohol consumption leads to deteriorating liver health, brain function, cardiac function, and immune system function. The physical dependence resulting from prolonged alcohol abuse jeopardizes your quality of life and your health.
How do you know if you need to seek out detox and treatment? Here are a few warning signs and risk factors that indicate alcohol abuse:
- Drinking on a daily basis
- Frequent binge drinking that leads to memory loss
- Not following through with responsibilities
- Changing friend groups
- Erratic behavior
Check out this article for more signs of alcohol dependence and addiction.
Alcohol After Surgery: Conclusions
The bottom line is that it’s better to avoid drinking prior to and following a surgical procedure. Alcohol has too many effects on the body – for example, thinning the blood and depressing the central nervous system – that deem it unsafe for use with surgical procedures. Alcohol has the potential to seriously interact with medications that are used both during and after surgery, such as general anesthesia and opioids. On top of that, alcohol simply interferes with the healing process and prolongs recovery. If you struggle with heavy drinking and need help stopping, let your health care provider know. Your doctors and health care team will be able to help you find a place to detox and seek recovery.