How are Alcohol and Diabetes Related?

Alcohol is everywhere, and it's often difficult to abstain from drinking. A person with diabetes should be very cautious about alcohol use or abstain altogether.
How are Alcohol and Diabetes Related?

Last update: 31 July, 2021

Drinking alcohol and diabetes don’t mix well. Liquor can change the way your body uses the sugar in your blood. Plus, it can also interfere with the action of medications that are taken.

Many times it’s indeed been stated that a person with diabetes can consume alcohol, as long as it’s done in moderation. However, this doesn’t apply to all patients. Moreover, we all know that the risks of alcohol far outweigh its benefits.

A healthy lifestyle doesn’t include alcohol. While it’s true that it’s a very common substance in the context of social relationships, it’s also true that someone with diabetes must take extreme care of their health. Here’s why.

Is it safe to drink alcohol if I have diabetes?

sad person with alcohol
People with diabetes should abstain from alcohol consumption.

The answer to this question is no. Alcohol has the potential to raise or lower blood sugar, and this poses a significant risk to anyone with diabetes. In addition, it could cause additional problems.

It’s normal for the liver to release glucose to keep blood sugar levels balanced. However, when a person drinks alcohol, that organ must take care of breaking it down. Thus, it can stop releasing glucose and cause a sugar reduction. This can occur up to 24 hours after consumption.

On the other hand, if the person drinks alcoholic beverages rich in carbohydrates, there’s a risk of the opposite happening: the sugar level rises. In addition to this, there are other possible harms:

  • Alcohol contains a lot of calories, which contributes to weight gain.
  • The liver stores the calories from alcohol as fat. This leads to the cells of that organ becoming more resistant to insulin. Over time, blood sugar levels may increase.
  • Alcohol intoxication and low blood sugar have similar symptoms. Therefore, it’s more difficult to recognize a hypoglycemic state.
  • In general, alcohol may make some complications of diabetes such as eye, kidney, or neurological damage more severe.
  • An intoxicated person isn’t able to recognize the symptoms of sugar problems.

How much alcohol can I drink?

A person with diabetes should ask their health care provider about limitations on drinking alcohol. In some cases, no amount of alcohol is safe. At other times, moderate, occasional alcohol intake may not be contraindicated.

If your health care provider approves alcohol, you should make sure your diabetes is under control before drinking alcohol. It’s also important to know how it can affect you and what precautions you should take to avoid problems.

Moderate drinking refers to no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. Now, what is “one drink”? It could be defined as follows:

  • 360 milliliters, or 12 ounces, for beverages with 5% or less alcohol content, such as beer.
  • 150 milliliters, or 5 ounces, for beverages with 12% alcohol content, such as wine.
  • 45 milliliters, or 1.5 ounces, in beverages with 40% alcohol content, such as whiskey, rum, gin, etc.

Interaction with medication

It isn’t advisable to mix drugs with alcohol and diabetes medications are no exception. A great number of medicines are synthesized by the liver and when ingesting liquor both substances compete to be assimilated first.

Therefore, alcohol can interfere with the action of drugs. In the case of diabetes, some drugs reduce blood glucose levels by stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin.

While alcohol can also reduce glucose levels, a possible result is to cause hypoglycemia or, in the worst case, an “insulin shock” which is a medical emergency.

Recommendations to take into account

A woman checking her glucose
People with diabetes are advised to avoid alcohol consumption. In any case, a doctor should be consulted in this regard.

If despite all this a person with diabetes decides to drink alcohol, it’s advisable to take into account some recommendations to reduce the risk of negative or serious consequences. The following are some of the measures that should be taken.

Eating correctly is important when it comes to alcohol and diabetes

It isn’t advisable to drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Therefore, the best thing to do is to eat something to eat before drinking. Specialists also suggest eating foods rich in carbohydrates while having a drink, as this helps to keep blood glucose levels balanced.

Speed and combinations

It’s best to drink slowly. If you consume alcohol very quickly, it’s easier to get drunk. You can combine liquor with natural or tonic water, soda, or a diet soft drink. It’s also advisable to hydrate the following hours after drinking.

Controlling sugar levels

Drinking alcohol prevents your attention from being sharpened. Therefore, it’s best to check your blood sugar more frequently. This will help to detect any possible signs of hypoglycemia and prevent it from being mistaken for just being drunk.

Don’t combine it with exercise

If a person with diabetes combines exercise with alcohol consumption, they’re more at risk of having low blood sugar. Therefore, they should avoid this combination. If drinking liquor also involves dancing, for example, the right thing to do is to eat carbohydrates frequently.

Make the right choice when it comes to alcohol and diabetes

It’s better to drink a low-alcohol beer than a regular beer. Dry wines are also more advisable than sparkling, sweet, dessert, or wine-based soft drinks. It’s better not to drink cocktails, especially if you don’t know exactly what they contain, or “hard” liquors such as vodka or similar.

Take precautions

You shouldn’t drink alone, but rather in the company of people who know about diabetes. In any case, you should carry a card or an element that identifies the disease. It’s also a good idea to carry about a glucose tablet, just in case.

Ask your doctor about alcohol and diabetes

The doctor is the one who should decide whether or not a person with diabetes can drink alcohol. They’re also knowledgeable enough to offer recommendations for responsible drinking.

If your drinking patterns change or cause concern, you should discuss this with your health care provider. If one or more of the following symptoms occur after drinking alcohol, call your doctor:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Very fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Nervousness, irritability, or aggressiveness
  • Headache
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Hunger or sweating
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Confusion
  • Trouble sleeping

It’s best to avoid alcohol if you have diabetes

Today, we know that no amount of alcohol is truly safe, especially for a person suffering from a chronic disease such as diabetes. Therefore, it’s best to refrain from consuming this type of beverage to avoid unpleasant surprises.

If despite knowing this it’s unavoidable to consume alcohol anyway, the golden rule is to do so in moderation and occasionally. When there are problems to manage drinking, the best thing to do is to seek psychological help.

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