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By Boris M | 12 May, 2020 Published in Guides
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Alcohol is one of the key components in any alcoholic drink – and we are all aware of the dangers of consuming too much sugar. But how can those who live with a condition that requires regulating blood sugar enjoy a drink like the rest of us?

In this post, we answer all questions relating to alcohol and diabetes. Can I drink alcohol if I have diabetes? Which type of drinks can I have? Here, all your queries are answered.

What Exactly Is Diabetes?

There are several different forms of diabetes. Type I requires that the person receive injections of insulin to survive. Type II can be controlled with healthy eating, an exercise regimen, and medications. Sometimes it can be necessary for people with Type II diabetes to need insulin injections as well if they are unable to accommodate these changes. [1]

Type I diabetes is generally brought on by either genetic factors or from a virus or infection that damages the immune system. This is the least common form of diabetes and is usually diagnosed before the age of 40 with no known preventative measures. Type II diabetes is caused by genetic factors and health issues, like being overweight.

How Can Alcohol Affect Diabetes?

Alcohol is a depressant and it affects many of the body’s systems in a negative way. That includes interfering with blood sugar levels. For diabetics, it can completely wipe out a person’s entire energy stores within hours.

Excessive alcohol intake can cause the body to become inefficient and reduces the ability of insulin to do its job. [2] A large number of people with alcoholic liver disease are also suffering from some form of blood sugar intolerance.

Can You Drink Alcohol If You Have Diabetes?

Eating healthy, exercising regularly, and taking care of your body will influence how much alcohol your body can take without it negatively affecting your health.
You will want to follow the guidelines as set down by your doctor.

Obviously, abstaining entirely will make certain that you will not suffer from adverse effects, but if you follow your doctor’s guidelines then you should be alright.

Seven Tips for Drinking Alcohol and Diabetes

Knowing how much sugar content is in the drinks you consume is first and foremost the most significant way of drinking and managing diabetes. It is always highly advised to check with your doctor before consuming alcohol if you have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Below we have listed a useful checklist to consider before drinking alcohol if you have diabetes:

Some diabetes medications inhibit glucose levels in the body and alcohol naturally does the same thing. Drinking while taking these kinds of medications could very easily lead to insulin shock which can be fatal if not treated immediately. 

The liver is a storage space for the body’s glucose so that it is ready to be used as needed. Alcohol causes the liver to work overtime to remove toxins from the body and as such can interfere with the liver’s ability to release glucose leading to a drop in blood sugar.

This can be dangerous and potentially require emergency medical intervention.

Eating before drinking makes it so that it absorbs slower into the bloodstream giving the body more time to work to remove the toxins. Drinking on an empty stomach can overwhelm your liver and cause significant glucose imbalance.

Because of the way alcohol inhibits your body’s ability to release glucose it is vital that you check your levels before you start drinking. Checking can be done by pricking your finger with a blood glucose meter or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) which then gives an accurate reading of your blood glucose levels there and then.

Alcohol can cause your blood sugar levels to fall immediately after drinking it and for a twelve-hour period afterward. After drinking you will need to check your glucose levels again so that you can eat food if necessary to stabilize them. 

Wear a medical bracelet so that people around you will know that you are diabetic if you start to display symptoms of hypoglycemia which can be dangerous if left untreated. It is also important to make sure that you drink at a moderate pace as drinking too quickly mimics the symptoms of hypoglycemia. 

For most people with diabetes, the limit is one alcoholic drink a day for women and two for men. This is not always the case. Some people are not able to drink at all. You will need to consult with your doctor to determine the safest amount of alcohol intake for you and your lifestyle. 

How Does Alcohol Interfere With Blood Sugar Levels?

Drinking alcohol when diabetic can lead to either high or low blood sugar depending on the overall health of the person, how much they drink, and where their glucose level is at before they start to drink. If you drink while having untreated diabetes the likelihood your blood sugar rising to unsafe levels is fairly significant.

Risks of Drinking Alcohol While Living With Diabetes

Individuals with well-maintained diabetes who only drink in moderation following the instructions of their doctors are usually fine. The problem with mixing alcohol and diabetes comes when a person is unable to control their amount of drinking or does not keep their diabetes in check.

Even when diabetes is maintained there is still a risk of significant damage due to other problems such as high blood pressure. The mixture of high blood pressure, diabetes, and drinking alcohol can easily lead to a higher risk of a heart attack.

Below we have issued some guidelines on how alcohol affects the different types of diabetes:

Alcohol and Type I Diabetes

Alcohol can be especially dangerous when combined in even moderate amounts with Type I diabetes. This is because Type I is dependent entirely on insulin injections to keep blood sugar levels balanced and it is easier to drink too much or not check your levels often enough when drinking.

This can lead to hypoglycaemia which looks and feels a lot like being drunk which can make it harder to get immediate treatment. If left untreated hypoglycaemic can be deadly.

Alcohol and Type II Diabetes

The most common type of diabetes is Type II which is caused by genetic or health issues and is generally manageable with lifestyle changes. The beginning stages of Type II can cause insulin resistance and the added effect of alcohol makes it very easy to fall into a hypoglycaemic state. Eating before drinking and keeping an eye on glucose levels is vital.

What Happens When a Diabetic Drinks Too Much Alcohol?

Drinking too much or too quickly can lead to either a surge or a drop in glucose and both of those things can have lasting damage if left untreated for even a short period of time. Every diabetic is different so the way that the alcohol affects you will be determined by many factors including the following.

  • How much you drink you consume and over what period of time
  • Blood sugar levels before, during, and after drinking how long you drink
  • If you are on any medications
  • If you had recently eaten
  • The health of your heart, liver, or other organs

Symptoms of Dangerous Drinking in Diabetics

First and foremost, knowing the sugar content of the alcoholic drinks you consume is the safest way to not exceed your limits. But it’s also important to be aware of the danger signs when drinking if you are living with diabetes.

The following symptoms could mean that you are experiencing either a dangerous drop or surge in blood sugar levels.

  • Dizziness
  • Shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Numbness in extremities
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness
  • Seizures

How Long Does Alcohol Affect Blood Sugar For?

The rule to follow is that for every alcoholic drink you have it will take approximately one to one and a half hours to be fully processed by your liver. For every drink added the time extends.

For example, three drinks mean that you can potentially suffer from catastrophically low blood sugar at any point within a three to four and a half-hour period. This means that the more you drink, the higher the risk of a blood sugar imbalance.

Alcohol and Hypoglycemia

As stated previously, the liver is where the body stores extra glucose but alcohol makes it so that the liver is unable to disseminate this as needed which can lead to lower blood sugar. The more you drink, the greater the likelihood of this taking place.

Even after you stop drinking there is still a higher chance of your liver being unable to properly provide glucose to your body for an entire day.

Because it is very easy to mistake hypoglycaemia with being drunk this is very dangerous and you want to make sure you are wearing your medical bracelet, have someone with you who is aware that you are diabetic, and also make sure they know how to react if you begin to have a hypoglycaemic reaction.

Are Some Alcoholic Drinks Better Than Others for Diabetics?

Ever wonder which drinks are best to steer clear from, and why? Here is a list of the drinks that will pose a smaller risk to diabetics:

  • Low-sugar beers (occasionally called diabetic drinks) because they have less sugar, but more alcohol
  • Low-alcohol wines because they often have much more sugar in them. If you do drink these then be very careful not to imbibe high sugar drinks
  • Use diet, sugar-free mixers with your drinks
  • Spirits, Prosecco, and dry wines tend to have fewer carbs which are better if you have high glucose levels

Treatment for Alcoholism Among Those With Diabetes

Alcoholism and diabetes is a very dangerous combination as both conditions exacerbate each other. [3] The best treatments are a mixture of therapy, medication, rehabilitation programs, and support therapies. You should work hand in hand with a medical professional to find the right treatment plan for your lifestyle and needs.

For more information on alcohol addiction, visit our alcohol addiction page.

Can Alcohol Cause Diabetes?

Weight gain is the number one cause of Type II diabetes and drinking tends to make people gain weight. In addition, drinking does impact the liver’s ability to deliver insulin as needed. Chronic over drinking will cause damage to the body’s glucose balance.

Golden Rules to Remember About Drinking Alcohol With Diabetes

  1. Moderation is key. Make sure you understand how alcohol affects you specifically and then do what is necessary to prevent a tumble or rise in your blood sugar
  2. Always eat something before you drink or snack while drinking (nothing sugary)
  3. Even one drink will potentially affect your levels for up to an entire day. Check them more often than you normally would so you can correct any changes
  4. Because alcohol often lowers glucose levels, it is a good idea to have a small snack before you go to bed

Contact Us Today

Looking for more advice on alcohol? Call us now on 0800 140 4690 for advice & support.

References

[1] https://www.diabetesresearch.org/diabetes-statistics

[2] https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/10/2785

[3] https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-and-alcohol.html

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