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Alcohol and Health

Why You Should Never Drink Alcohol Before Surgery

Published:
August 8, 2023
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9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 8, 2023
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9 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 8, 2023
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9 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 8, 2023
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9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 8, 2023
·
9 min read

If there’s ever a time to refrain from drinking alcohol, it’s before you undergo surgery. Whether it’s cardiovascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, or any other surgical procedure, consuming alcohol before going under the knife (or the laser) can be incredibly dangerous.

While complications are much more likely if we have alcohol use disorder, even a single drink in the days leading up to surgery can be problematic. Let’s dive in.

Alcohol and Anesthesia Don’t Mix

Many surgeries require general anesthesia — a state of controlled unconsciousness that keeps us from moving or feeling pain during the procedure. Powerful drugs send us to sleep and reduce bodily functions such as breathing, heart rate, and blood circulation.

Alcohol has a similar sedative effect, suppressing our central nervous system. It disrupts how our body absorbs anesthesia, which could make some drugs ineffective. As a result, the anesthesiologist might have to use a higher dosage, which can increase the risk of cardiac events, especially if we already have heart problems.

Furthermore, since both alcohol and anesthesia can cause nausea and vomiting, taking them together increases our risk of aspiration (inhaling vomit), which can cause pneumonia nad even potentially be fatal.

Overwhelms Our Liver

Our liver processes all the drugs that go through our system, including alcohol and anesthesia medications. Having both in our system at the same time can overwhelm our liver, sending it into overdrive to metabolize both substances. This can put more strain on it than can handle and, over time, it may fail.

Increased Bleeding

By their very nature, surgeries can cause bleeding. Thankfully, our body has a built-in mechanism — clotting — for stopping blood loss. However, alcohol is a blood thinner and can interfere with our body’s ability to clot. This can make controlling blood loss during surgery particularly difficult.

The risk of uncontrolled bleeding or bleeding out is even greater if we’re also taking blood-thinning medications or have a clotting disorder, such as hemophilia.

Problems With Medications

Alcohol can also interact with medications we took before, during, or immediately after surgery, causing serious side effects or making the medicines less effective. This could be particularly problematic if we need pain relievers, sedatives, or antibiotics prior to or following our surgery.

Bleeding

Since alcohol is a blood thinner, it can cause us to bleed more than average after a surgery. It also increases our risk of developing an infection at our surgical site, in our urinary tract, or in our respiratory system.

Alcohol can also make it harder and longer to recover from surgery. Since alcohol makes us bleed more and prevents blood from clotting, it can slow down the rate at which our wounds heal.

Recovery time may also be increased if we had alcohol-related complications during the procedure, such as uncontrolled bleeding. In severe cases, we may require a blood transfusion if we lost a lot of blood during surgery. This can further delay our recovery.

Infection and Sepsis

Infection is one of the biggest post-surgical risks patients face. This makes sense, given that we have a healing wound — and if bacteria gets into it, it can create a fertile breeding ground for an infection. If the infection isn’t managed in time, it can spread throughout our body, leading to sepsis or sending us into septic shock, a potentially life-threatening condition.


Extended Recovery Time

Any surgery requires a certain amount of recovery time. How long it takes to recover depends on a variety of factors, such as our current state of health and what kind of surgery we had.

Furthermore, alcohol can cause problems with many of our bodily systems, such as our liver, pancreas, and nervous system. This can make it harder to recover from surgery, as our body is already working overtime to heal itself.

How Long Before Surgery Should I Stop Drinking Alcohol?

When should we stop drinking alcohol? In general, it’s best to avoid alcohol for at least 48 hours before a scheduled surgery. This gives our body a chance to remove all the alcohol from our system and helps minimize the risk of serious complications both during and after surgery.

However, most doctors agree it’s even better if we stop drinking a week or two earlier than that. Remaining sober for a week or two before surgery can help our body heal faster after the operation is done. We’ll likely be better hydrated, our liver will function better, and our body will be better able process the anesthesia.

Be Honest With Your Doctor

If you’re planning to have surgery, it’s important to be completely honest with your doctor about how much you drink. Doctors aren’t there to judge or berate us, but to make sure we come out of surgery as healthy as possible. Not being honest or upfront about our alcohol use could be life-threatening.

It’s important to communicate how much and how frequently we drink. If we suspect we might have trouble not drinking before surgery, our doctor can help us develop a plan. Keep in mind that if our body is dependent on alcohol, stopping abruptly can lead to alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

The Bottom Line

Drinking alcohol before surgery can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. It can cause a variety of complications, from interfering with anesthesia to causing excessive bleeding. Any amount of alcohol — even one “little” drink — in the days leading up to surgery can be harmful. At the very least, don’t consume any alcohol at least 48 hours prior to surgery. But it’s best to stop drinking a week or two beforehand.

If you’re struggling to control your alcohol intake, consider trying Reframe. We’ve helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Say Goodbye to Alcohol With Reframe

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