Obesity Patients May Replace Over Eating With Another Addiction

As obesity surgery becomes ever more popular, doctors are seeing a new phenomenon, patients who stop their compulsive eating only to move on to other addictions.

Terria Linn, a social worker who had the surgery herself, specializes in treating the problem called addiction transfer.

She believes it occurs because some people are genetically programmed for addictive behaviors. "It's just a kind of a change of venue, so to speak."

How widespread is the problem?

Estimates vary from 5 to 30 percent of the surgery patients show signs.

“Most often the patients switch their compulsive behavior to drinking far too much. But they can also use drugs, become compulsive gamblers, even compulsive shoppers,” Su Bridge explains.

That is what happened to Linda Eammons. "If I had more money I would shop all the time," she says.

She spent so much, her husband enforced strict financial limits.

With her therapy, she has the urge under control now but still is eager to shop whenever she can. "You feel some voids in your life and it's like instant gratification when you're shopping. You know, you're trying on these clothes and looking in the mirror and you feel great."

Surgeons who perform the obesity operations like Dr. Randy Rheinhold of the Hospital of Saint Raphael are not surprised by the addiction transfer because many patients will TRY to resume compulsive eating before they move on to other behaviors. "They can't eat large portions so they eat multiple tiny portions. I've had patients who blenderize cheesecake in order to get it in," he says.

Experts emphasize that obesity has multiple causes and that surgery can reduce the girth but not change the underlying personality.

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