All surgeries have possible complications, so taking the right steps to reduce these complications is important. Drinking three or more drinks per day has been associated with increased risk of complications after surgery; these can include infections, heart and lung complications, and bleeding episodes.
Researchers from Cochrane Database performed a systematic review of trials that looked at the effects of interventions to help patients who were heavy drinkers quit drinking before elective surgery.. The results, published in Cochrane Database, showed that preoperative alcohol cessation interventions, for a month or more, were associated with decreased postoperative complications.
The systematic review included two randomized trials that compared preoperative alcohol cessation to standard care in patients with alcohol use disorder having elective surgery. The trials included 69 adults. The interventions included medicines for one month prior to surgery or medicines plus motivational counseling for three months prior to surgery. Standard care included recommendations to cease alcohol but no cessation support.
In these two trials, intensive interventions to help patients stop drinking significantly reduced the number of complications. There were no significant differences in the number of patients who died in the first month after surgery and no difference in the length of hospital stay between the groups.
Normally, systematic reviews and randomized trials are very reliable study methods. However, since there were only two included trials and the trials had a small number of people participating in them, this somewhat decreases the reliability of the results. Larger studies with more people would help to clarify if these alcohol interventions in patients who are heavy drinkers really helps to decrease complications after surgery.
It is important to remember that heavy alcohol consumption is associated withsurgical complications as well as difficulties during recovery. Make sure your doctor is aware of your drinking habits prior to undergoing elective surgery. If you are regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol, it may be difficult for you to quit on your own. Your doctor may recommend medications and/or counseling to help you reduce or stop drinking before your surgery. Efforts to stop drinking may decrease your risks of complications after the surgery as well as improve your overall health.
Oppedal, K., Moller, A. M., Pedersen, B., Tonnesen, H. Preoperative alcohol cessation prior to elective surgery. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;(7):CD008343.
Last reviewed October 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
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