Alcohol and Diabetes

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. High levels of glucose in your blood can cause serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage (called diabetic neuropathy), eye disease, and foot problems.

There are two major types of diabetes related to blood sugar. Type-1 is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and is a result of the body not making insulin, the hormone that transports glucose into cells for use as energy. 

Type-2 is the most common form of diabetes and arises from the body not responding to insulin (referred to as insulin resistance). It occurs most commonly in middle-aged and older people and is more likely if you are overweight or obese.

Can Alcoholism Cause Diabetes?

Alcohol and diabetes are strongly correlated. Excessive alcohol consumption increases your risk of developing chronic inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis. This condition leads to irreversible damage that includes the destruction of β-cells, the specialized cells in the pancreas responsible for the production, storage, and release of insulin. One of the consequences of pancreatitis is an impaired ability of the pancreas to secrete insulin, which can potentially lead to type-2 diabetes.

If you believe you or someone you love may need help dealing with an alcohol use disorder and are unsure about whether there are affordable options, check to see if insurance can cover all or part of the cost of rehab.

Can I Drink if I Have Diabetes?

Many people with diabetes want to know if it is safe to drink alcohol. The short answer is yes, but you must practice caution when drinking. It is important that you only drink when your blood sugar is well controlled, and under no circumstances should you drink in excess.

Alcohol and Diabetes
Alcohol and Diabetes: Excessive alcohol consumption increases your risk of developing chronic inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), women with diabetes should not drink more than one serving of alcohol (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ½ ounce of distilled spirits) a day, while men with diabetes should not drink more than two servings per day.

Alcohol and diabetes: Prior to having a drink, the ADA suggests that you ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  • Is my diabetes in good control?
  • Does my doctor agree that I can have alcohol?
  • Do I know how alcohol can affect me and my blood sugar?

If you can answer “yes” to all 3 questions, then it is probably okay to have a drink.

It is important to remember that alcohol can cause hypoglycemia after drinking. If you are going to consume alcohol, monitor your blood glucose before drinking, while drinking, and after drinking (for up to 12 hours). The symptoms of hypoglycemia, which are similar to those from consuming too much alcohol, can include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation

You do not want to confuse hypoglycemia for drunkenness, as this may prevent you from seeking the proper assistance and treatment needed for a hypoglycemic episode. It is also important to always wear a medical ID bracelet identifying that you have diabetes. This will alert others that what may appear to be symptoms of intoxication can actually be signs of hypoglycemia.

Alcohol and Diabetes: The Risks

If you currently have diabetes drinking alcohol can be harmful. Alcohol abuse in people with diabetes increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, eye problems, and nerve damage. If you have difficulty managing your blood sugar levels, you should strongly consider whether it is safe to drink alcohol.

alcohol and diabetes
Alcohol and Diabetes: Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. High levels of glucose in your blood can cause serious health problems.

If you are an alcoholic, it is significantly more difficult to keep your blood sugar levels in check. This is because alcoholic drinks contain excessive amounts of carbohydrates and sugar, which cause dramatic spikes in blood sugar. Alcohol is also high in calories and can lead to weight gain that decreases the sensitivity and production of insulin, consequently making it more difficult to control blood sugar.

7 Facts About Alcohol and Diabetes

1. Alcohol interacts with diabetes medications

Alcohol can cause blood glucose levels to rise or fall, depending on how much you drink. Some diabetes pills (including sulfonylureas and meglitinides) also lower blood glucose levels by stimulating the pancreas to make more insulin. Combining the blood-sugar-lowering effects of the medication with alcohol can lead to hypoglycemia or “insulin shock,” which is a medical emergency.

2. Alcohol prevents your liver from doing its job

The main function of your liver is to store glycogen, which is the stored form of glucose, so that you will have a source of glucose when you haven’t eaten. When you drink alcohol, your liver has to work to remove it from your blood instead of working to regulate blood sugar, or blood glucose. For this reason, you should never drink alcohol when your blood glucose is already low.

3. Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach

Food slows down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. Be sure to eat a meal or snack containing carbohydrates if you are going to drink alcohol.

4. Always test blood sugar before having an alcoholic beverage

Alcohol impairs your liver’s ability to produce glucose, so be sure to know your blood glucose number before you drink an alcoholic beverage.

5. Alcohol can cause hypoglycemia

Within a few minutes of drinking alcohol, and for up to 12 hours afterward, alcohol can cause your blood glucose level to drop. After consuming alcohol, always check your blood glucose level to make sure it is in the safe zone. If your blood glucose is low, eat a snack to bring it up.

6. You can save your life by drinking slowly

Drinking too much alcohol can make you feel dizzy, sleepy, and disoriented—the same symptoms as hypoglycemia. Be sure to wear a bracelet that alerts people around you to the fact that you have diabetes, so that if you start to behave like you are intoxicated they know that your symptoms could be caused by hypoglycemia. If you are hypoglycemic, you need food and/or glucose tablets to raise your blood glucose level.

7. You can save your life by knowing your limit

Your healthcare provider will tell you how much alcohol is safe for you to drink. Depending on your health condition, that may mean no alcohol at all. In some cases, women with diabetes may have no more than one alcoholic beverage a day. Men should have no more than two.

Treatment Options For Alcohol and Diabetes

Alcoholism in a diabetic can lead to extremely dangerous consequences. Studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption negatively impacts adherence to diabetes treatment and adversely impacts the course of diabetes, resulting in increased morbidity and mortality. Drinking affects the effectiveness of diabetes medications and can cause liver damage, putting you at further risk. 

While it is usually fine to drink small amounts of alcohol with diabetes, if you are battling alcoholism it is essential that you seek professional help immediately. Only with proper treatment for your alcoholism, together with healthy lifestyle changes, you will be better positioned to avoid serious complications of diabetes.

alcohol and diabetes
Alcohol and Diabetes: Alcohol interacts with diabetes medications.

Depending on the severity of your alcoholism, treatment can be done on an inpatient or an outpatient basis. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol can be extremely painful, and sometimes life-threatening, so if detox is needed it is recommended to undergo treatment in a facility providing around the clock medical supervision.

Reclaim Your Life From Alcohol and Diabetes

Alcohol and diabetes are strongly correlated and can be very dangerous when combined. We Level Up Treatment Center can provide you, or someone you love, with the tools needed to recover from alcoholism with professional and safe treatment.  Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information.  Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.