What About Diabetes & Alcohol?

For those with diabetes, special care and consideration needs to be taken when it comes to determining what foods to eat. While it is commonly known how sweets and carbohydrates can affect those with diabetes, something that raises many questions is the relationship between diabetes and alcohol. To begin understanding that, certain things need to be taken into consideration.

Can People With Diabetes Drink Alcohol?

Having diabetes does not mean that you cannot consume alcohol. As with most things, the key to drinking with diabetes is moderation. Alcohol has a specific effect on the body and knowing what it does is important in understanding how it can affect people with diabetes.

Glucose, or blood sugar, is what fuels our bodies and keeps us going. Alcohol stops the production of glucose within the liver and forces the body to run on the reserves it has stored up. Following alcohol consumption, the body is unable to create more glucose for a period and requires time to begin production again.

Effects of Alcohol for Those With Diabetes

People with diabetes need to understand how alcohol affects their blood glucose levels. While the liver is working to remove alcohol from the blood, it is unable to make adjustments to glucose levels. The danger in that comes in the form of hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia, also known as insulin shock, is a condition in which there is not enough glucose in the blood. Due to constantly changing blood sugar levels, hypoglycemia puts people with diabetes at risk. The effects of hypoglycemia can remain for up to 24 hours after drinking and they range from dizziness and weakness to more serious complications.

Given some of the carbohydrates in drinks, sometimes blood sugar levels are able to rise initially and provide a false sense of security. It is important to constantly monitor levels and to abide by recommended levels of alcohol consumption. According to the American Diabetes Association, women may have one drink per day, equal to a 12 oz. beer, a 5 oz. glass of wine, or 1½ oz. of distilled spirits. The ADA also states that men should not have more than two such drinks per day.

Alcohol & Diabetes Medication

Something else that those with diabetes need to keep in mind is how alcohol interact with their diabetes medications. This is very important, as some medications are meant to activate the pancreas and create more insulin, a hormone that lowers blood sugar.

With the body unable to produce blood sugar and insulin levels increased, there is a higher risk of hypoglycemia. It is also important to make sure blood sugar levels do not drop too low before sleep.

Pre-diabetes & Alcohol

Pre-diabetes occurs when individuals have abnormally high blood sugar, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. If certain behaviors are not changed, the condition can progress to diabetes.

For those with pre-diabetes, just as in others, alcohol poses the same risk of decreased blood sugar. Some studies have suggested that greater alcohol consumption than recommended could put individuals at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while other findings contest that.

Key Takeaways

Along with consuming in moderation, there are a few things that are important for people with diabetes to know about alcohol consumption.

  1. Refrain from drinking when blood sugar is low or on an empty stomach.
  2. Always be careful consuming alcohol while on medication. Be aware of side effects.
  3. Always monitor blood glucose levels to gauge the effects of drinking.

Visit CCS Medical's Living Healthy library to learn more about alcohol and diabetes.

The information provided within this site is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for consultation with your physician or healthcare provider.

Edited content 06.26.18

Marianne McAndrew, DNP, RN, CDE

Marianne McAndrew, DNP, RN, CDE

Marianne McAndrew holds a Doctor of Nursing Practice, is a Registered Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and a CCS Medical Insulin Pump Specialist.

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