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Alcohol before surgery? It’s absolutely not worth the risk to your health — or your life.

Drinking alcohol before surgery is taking a major risk. For your own safety and well-being, it’s best to avoid alcohol for at least 48 hours before your scheduled surgery.

Alcohol consumption can lead to serious complications both during and after the procedure. It can lead to a longer hospital stay and longer overall recovery time. In some cases, it can jeopardize your life.

Let’s take a look at how alcohol affects the body, what this means if you need surgery, and what you can do in advance of your procedure.

Surgical complications are more likely if you have an alcohol use disorder. But even one incidence of binge drinking or a single presurgery drink can cause trouble.

Problems with anesthesia

General anesthesia involves powerful drugs that suppress functions such as breathing, heart rate, and blood circulation. Alcohol affects the same body systems.

All these substances must be metabolized in the liver, which may not be able to keep up. In addition, both anesthesia and alcohol can cause nausea and vomiting. This may increase your risk of aspiration (inhaling vomit), which can be potentially fatal.

The anesthesiologist may need to adjust the dosage if you have alcohol in your system or in the case of chronic alcohol use.

If a higher dose of anesthesia is needed, it can increase the risk of cardiac events, especially if you already have heart problems. The anesthesiologist will carefully monitor your vital signs and make adjustments with that in mind.

Increased bleeding

Any surgery involves a certain amount of bleeding. The body responds by clotting to stop blood loss. Alcohol can thin the blood and interfere with this process, raising the risk of uncontrolled bleeding.

This effect is magnified if you also take blood-thinning medications or have a clotting disorder, such as hemophilia.

Alcohol consumption increases the risks of postoperative complications, admission to intensive care units, and death.

Interferes with medications

Alcohol can interact with medications you’re given just before, during, and immediately following surgery. This can result in a bad reaction or cause some drugs to be less effective.

This could be a problem if you need pain medications, sedatives, or other medications.

Bleeding, infection, sepsis

Alcohol use increases the incidence of postoperative bleeding. It also raises the chances of infection of the surgical site, in the respiratory system, or in the urinary tract.

A poor immune response to infection can lead to sepsis and septic shock, a potentially life threatening condition.

Delayed healing, longer recovery

If you lost a lot of blood during surgery, you may require a blood transfusion. This can add to recovery time. Slowed clotting can also delay healing of surgical wounds.

Total recovery time may be increased if you had alcohol-related complications during the procedure. Alcohol can cause problems with the liver, pancreas, and nervous system, which can also make it harder to recover.

Alcohol use is an independent risk factor for acute confusion or delirium following surgery.

Cardiopulmonary complications

Alcohol affects the heart and lungs. Chronic alcohol use disorder or even a single occasion of binge drinking can leave you dehydrated. It can also cause:

Any of these conditions will complicate your recovery from surgery.

Alcohol and bariatric surgery

If you’re planning to have bariatric surgery, be sure to discuss alcohol with your doctor well in advance. You’ll want to talk about how much you currently drink and what you can expect if you continue to drink after the surgery.

A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that there’s a significant increase in alcohol use disorder 2 years after gastric bypass surgery.

This wasn’t the case for those who underwent gastric banding. One reason for this may be that bypass surgery changes the way your body metabolizes alcohol.

When it comes to alcohol and surgery, what your doctors don’t know can hurt you.

The single most important thing you can do is to be completely open about your alcohol use. This is true if you had one drink the night before surgery, recently binged, or if you’re alcohol dependent. This discussion could save your life.

Follow all presurgery instructions regarding food, alcohol, and medications. If you’re a heavy drinker, begin tapering off as soon as the option of surgery is on the table.

Talk with your doctor if you don’t think you can do this safely. If your body is dependent on alcohol, stopping abruptly can lead to alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Symptoms can occur up to 5 days after your last drink but typically develop within 6 to 24 hours. They can include:

  • tremors
  • gastric upset
  • sweating
  • increased blood pressure
  • anxiety, agitation
  • delirium, hallucinations
  • seizures

Withdrawal symptoms can make surgery and recovery very dangerous. Arm your doctors with information they need in advance. This will help them determine what steps are necessary to provide you with the safest possible surgery.

Steps may include:

  • starting alcohol addiction treatment
  • taking medications to control withdrawal symptoms
  • changing the date of surgery (if it’s safe to do so)
  • making adjustments to anesthesia and other medications

Discussions about alcohol use will be kept confidential with your doctor.

No matter what type of surgery you’re having, there’s some measure of risk. Drinking alcohol before surgery or not informing your surgeon that you have an alcohol use disorder only adds to that risk.

But what about just one little drink? Well, any amount of alcohol before surgery can be dangerous, and it’s just not worth taking the risk. Thus, you absolutely shouldn’t drink alcohol before surgery.

It’s a good idea to stop drinking at least 48 hours prior to surgery. It’s even better if you can stop a week or two earlier than that.

Make it a point to speak with your doctors about alcohol before surgery. This important information will help them determine how to promote a positive outcome for you.