Author: James Anderson

Alcohol and diabetes: Effects, blood sugar levels, and guidelines

diabetes and alcohol

An occasional social drink is usually harmless for people with diabetes. But if you do have diabetes, drinking safely involves more planning. Consider what type of alcohol you are drinking, when, and how much. Understand how your medications work and how alcohol can affect them.

diabetes and alcohol

These may be confused with or mask the symptoms of low blood sugar. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one standard drink in the United States is equal to 14 grams (g) (0.6 ounces [oz]) of pure alcohol. But if you have diabetes, there’s an extra layer of concern that demands attention. Diabetes Strong is committed to delivering content that is patient-focused and adheres to the highest standards for accuracy, objectivity, and trustworthiness. According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020, 34.2 million people in the United States had diabetes in 2018.

Alcohol and Carbohydrates

But if you have diabetes and want to enjoy happy hour, it’s best to take an approach that offers you some protection. They should try to wake you up to be sure you are not “blackout drunk” and insist that you check your blood sugar and think about any medications you still need to take. If they discover that you are “blackout drunk” and unresponsive, they should call 911. Then, take notes on what happens so you have a reference for next time. Drinking is individualized and there’s no universal rule for how to do it safely when you live with diabetes. Talk to your doctor about your drinking habits and they can provide you with tips and tricks for how drink in a way that works for you.

  1. This is particularly true for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who are taking insulin or a medication that lowers blood glucose.
  2. Given that drinking can make you lose track of what you’re eating, calories (and pounds) can add up quickly.
  3. For this reason, you should never drink alcohol when your blood glucose is already low.
  4. If a person chooses to drink, they should always eat at the same time and include carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, or grains, in their meal.

The liver often makes this choice when you drink without eating food—so consider snacking while you sip. Alcohol consumption can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels. This is because the liver has to work to remove the alcohol from the blood instead of managing blood sugar levels. Alcohol consumption can also lead to situational unawareness of low blood sugar levels. Normal fasting blood sugar levels should be in the range of 70–100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).

So you may not know if your blood sugar is low or what you’re feeling is just the effects of the alcohol. Warehousing glycogen, the stored form of glucose, is among the many tasks your liver performs. The glycogen stays there until your liver breaks it down for release to address low blood sugar. Beer, for example, varies in its carb-count but those carbs are coming from a very starchy source–grain. So you may find that one bottle of beer calls for 1 unit of insulin while two glasses of pinot grigio doesn’t require any insulin. Instead, choose dry wines (red or white), cocktails with sugar-free mixers (diet soda or club soda), lighter beers.

It is also important to mention that due to the growing popularity of craft beers, the alcohol content of some beers is now higher than 5%. Beverages such as beer and wine can have an alcohol content of 2–20%. Talk with your provider if you or someone you know with diabetes has an alcohol problem. Comprehensive, accurate, easy-to-understand articles written by a team who live with diabetes, and fact-checked by medical professionals. If you found this guide to diabetes and alcohol useful, please sign up for our newsletter (and get a sign-up bonus) in the form below.

Who Should Not Drink Alcohol?

The percentage of the population with diabetes increases according to age, reaching 26.8% in adults aged 65 and older.

They show the amount of carbs and sugar in different alcoholic beverages. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can reduce the overall effectiveness of insulin. Many people with alcoholic liver disease also have either glucose intolerance or diabetes. People with diabetes should be particularly cautious when it comes to drinking alcohol because alcohol can make some of the complications of diabetes worse.

Drinking alcohol carries the same health risks for people with diabetes as it does in otherwise healthy people. But there are certain risks related to having diabetes that are important to know. The effect alcohol will have on your diabetes depends on how much you drink, what you drink, when you drink, and what your medication regimen is. Speak with your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about how alcohol impacts diabetes. Alcohol is a depressant that impacts how your brain communicates with your body.

diabetes and alcohol

The number of carbohydrates needed to prevent highs and lows depends on your blood sugar level when you start drinking, your meal plan, and your medication. That sort of double impact can cause blood sugar levels to drop to dangerously low levels, a condition known as hypoglycemia. 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. If you begin to vomit because of excessive alcohol consumption, it’s critical to first test your blood sugar and test your ketone level.

How alcohol affects diabetes

Whether you have ketones or not, next it’s important to try drinking water to replenish the fluids you lost and prevent dehydration. If you normally take your long-acting insulin dose every night at 10 p.m. But you’re downtown with your friends and plan on having quite a few drinks, take your long-acting insulin as close to normal as possible without risking forgetting entirely. Will have essentially no noticeable impact on your blood sugars, especially if it means you made sure to take it before the night got too rowdy. Should you still teach your friends (and yourself) how to administer emergency glucagon to use if you’re struggling with severe hypoglycemia and vomiting while drinking? But keep in mind that it isn’t going to raise your blood sugar nearly as quickly as it would when you are sober.

Take a look at the numbers and you’ll find that only moderate drinkers have less cardiovascular disease. Those on the opposite ends of the spectrum—people that drink heavily and those that don’t—have a greater risk. The bottom line is that any person with diabetes who wishes to consume alcohol should first discuss it with a doctor. Because alcohol is highly addictive and research links heavy consumption to an array of adverse health effects, avoiding the beverage is the healthiest choice for anyone. Because even moderate alcohol consumption can adversely many aspects of health, the negatives seem to outweigh the positives.

Then, while still unconscious, your blood sugar is rising to dangerously high levels, putting you at risk for diabetic ketoacidosis, coma, or death. And when it comes to guessing the carb-content in an alcoholic beverage, Harris says people too often make false assumptions. Because many of the symptoms of hypoglycemia—such as slurred speech, drowsiness, confusion, or difficulty walking—are also symptoms of being drunk, it can be difficult to tell the two apart. And if you often have hypoglycemia unawareness, a condition in which you don’t recognize you’re going low, drinking becomes especially dicey. Timing may also be an issue, as hypoglycemia can strike hours after your last drink, especially if you’ve been exercising.

Can people with diabetes drink alcohol?

After all, other aspects of moderate drinkers’ lives may be behind the link. The ADA does not forbid a person with diabetes from consuming alcohol, but they do not advise it either. If someone with diabetes chooses to drink alcohol, the ADA recommends limiting consumption to a moderate intake. This translates to one drink per day for females and up to two per day for males.