Should Diabetics Drink Alcohol?
It is best for people with diabetes to not drink alcohol as it may interfere with the body’s use of insulin, cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate, or conflict with some medications for diabetes.
That said, moderate drinking habits can make consumption possible, but diabetics should first consult beforehand with their doctor regarding drinking alcohol
This article will provide information about diabetes and the impact of alcohol on diabetics.
What is Diabetes Mellitus?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes mellitus (often just “diabetes”) is a chronic health condition that affects how one’s body regulates blood sugar and turns food into energy.
When food is consumed, most of it is broken down into glucose (sugar) and released into the bloodstream. As glucose levels in the body rise, the pancreas adjusts insulin production. Diabetes adversely impacts this ability to control the blood sugar level.
Types of Diabetes
There are several types of diabetes. The main ones are type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, and prediabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
In Type 1 diabetes (T1D), the body’s immune system destroys insulin-producing pancreatic cells. It is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults, but can occur at any age.
There is no known cure and people with T1D depend on insulin to survive. Diet and exercise also play roles in treatment.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a progressive metabolic disorder in which the body produces insulin but is unable to use it effectively. The pancreas responds by making more insulin and blood sugar levels rise.
High blood sugar not only leads to type 2 diabetes, but can also cause heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
Type 2 diabetes can be managed with diet and exercise or medication. More serious cases may require insulin therapy. It is the most common type of diabetes, representing at least 90 percent of all cases.
Gestational diabetes is type of diabetes that sometimes develops in pregnant women as their bodies experience an increase in hormones and weight gain. This, in turn, can lead to insulin resistance and gestational diabetes.
Prediabetes is a condition preceding type 2 diabetes. It occurs when the body has higher than normal blood sugar levels but not high enough to be considered T2D. It is possible to prevent prediabetes from progressing by making healthy lifestyle changes such as good nutrition, regular exercise, and losing excess weight.
What is Insulin?
Produced by the pancreas, insulin is a fundamental metabolic hormone that helps blood glucose enter muscle, fat, and liver cells, where it is used for energy. Lack of insulin results in a significant imbalance of blood glucose.
If the body is not able to make enough insulin or use it efficiently, blood sugar builds up in the bloodstream and eventually causes diabetes.
Insulin also controls the body’s metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and protein.
Until the 1920s, a strict low-carbohydrate, low-calorie diet was the only treatment for diabetes. Then Canadian surgeon Frederick Banting and assistant Charles Best discovered insulin in 1921.
Complications of Diabetes
There are two main conditions that are common complications of diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) can be caused by too much insulin, not eating enough or soon enough, or too much exercise. Low blood sugar is a serious concern and needs prompt attention.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a very serious health complication that occurs when the body produces increased levels of blood acids called ketone bodies. This happens when the body does not have enough insulin or when blood sugar is very high.
Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar
Since the effects of alcohol on otherwise healthy people are similar to the symptoms of lower blood glucose levels in people with diabetes, it is important to watch out for these symptoms and make sure blood sugar levels are under control.
Symptoms of low blood sugar include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Increased heart rate or palpitations
Diabetes and Drinking Alcohol
Drinking alcohol poses more risks for diabetics than for otherwise healthy people. Alcohol can interfere with blood sugar levels and the effectiveness of diabetes medications.
Alcohol and Low Blood Sugar
According to the American Diabetes Association, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is one of the biggest concerns of alcohol and diabetes. When alcohol is consumed, the liver needs to break it down and must stop releasing glucose. Since the liver is unable to regulate glucose levels while processing alcohol, blood sugar levels drop, leading to an increased risk of hypoglycemia.
Certain types of diabetes medications and insulin medication can also lead to lower blood sugar levels when drinking alcohol. Other factors include whether food has been consumed and how much alcohol has been consumed and how quickly it has been consumed.
Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach and having too much alcohol can increase one’s risk of hypoglycemia.
Drinking Alcohol and Blood Sugar Levels
Acute alcohol consumption can cause spikes in the blood sugar level.
It is important for moderate drinkers to limit alcohol intake and be aware of how alcohol may affect blood glucose levels.
Other risks of drinking alcohol include elevated glucose levels, weight gain, and worsening of other health conditions. Consuming alcoholic beverages that are high in carbohydrates can increase one’s blood sugar level.
What is Moderate Alcohol Consumption?
Moderate drinking recommendations vary for men and women. For women, it is generally safe to have up to one drink per day. For men, alcohol consumption should be no more than two drinks per day.
The definition of one drink varies by type of alcohol. Below are the appropriate volumes per drink.
- 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
- 1.5 ounces of liquor (40% alcohol content or 80 proof)
When consuming mixed drinks, it is best to choose low-calorie or calorie-free mixers such as diet soda, club soda, or tonic water.
It is also preferable to avoid sugary or high-calorie alcoholic beverages such as sweet wine or sugary cocktails. Light beers or dry wine, for example, are better selections.
Diabetes Medications and Alcohol
Insulin and some oral diabetes medicines, when mixed with alcohol, can increase the risk of low blood sugar.
Chlorpropamide,an oral antihyperglycemic agent, can cause adverse reactions with alcohol such as flushing of the face, arms, or neck, headache, nausea, hypotension, vertigo, blurred vision, tachycardia, and dyspnea.
Metformin, used to treat high blood sugar levels, can cause lactic acidosis in people who have a history of heavy alcohol consumption.
Drinking Alcohol and Diabetes-Related Conditions is Dangerous
Consuming alcoholic drinks when diagnosed with the following illnesses can cause severe health consequences.
A person suffering from the following diabetes-related conditions will find it best to avoid alcohol.
- Diabetic neuropathy, nerve damage caused by diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar can weaken the tiny blood vessels that supply nerves with oxygen and nutrients.
- Diabetic retinopathy, or diabetic eye disease, a health condition caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina.
- Elevated triglyceride levels, a common health concern for people with diabetes which may occur when diabetes is out of control. It is also a risk factor that can lead to cardiovascular disease.
- Kidney diseases, another concern for people with diabetes. Blood sugar control, blood pressure, and genetics can all factor into whether a person will develop kidney disease.
- Uncontrolled hypertension, a very common concern. According to the American Diabetes Association, two-thirds of people with diabetes suffer from hypertension.
- Diabetes-related lipid abnormalities which can worsen with heavy alcohol consumption.
Review: Important Risk Factors to Know
- Alcohol may interfere with the effect of diabetes medications, increasing the possibilities of low blood sugar or high blood sugar.
- Do not drink alcohol on an empty stomach. It is better to consume alcohol with foods and drink only in moderation. Eating food while drinking alcohol decreases the risks.
- Eating food or a snack that contains carbohydrates can help to better manage diabetes and blood glucose level.
- Drink slowly. It takes about 1-1.5 hours for the liver to process each alcohol drink.
- If you take insulin as well as diabetes medications, it could cause very severe blood pressure drops.
- Carry a visible medical ID or drink with a friend who knows you are diabetic and can help in case of a medical emergency.
- Monitor blood sugar levels before, during, and after consuming alcohol to help manage blood sugar levels while drinking alcohol.
- Make sure your blood sugar level is safe before going to sleep.
- Avoid exercising after you drink alcohol. Consumption increases the risk of low blood sugar.
- Always consult with your healthcare provider to make sure that alcohol consumption is safe.
Be Cautious with Alcohol and Diabetes
While an occasional alcohol drink can be safe for some people with diabetes, heavy alcohol consumption can cause severe health issues.
Always consult with a medical provider about any concerns regarding alcohol use. People with diabetes should ask the health care provider for an assessment of their level of safety.
La Hacienda Treatment Center
For 50 years, La Hacienda Treatment Center has been helping people recover from drug and alcohol addictions. Our 40-acre residential treatment campus in the Texas Hill Country provides a peaceful, healing atmosphere for men and women to start recovery and rebuild their lives.
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Alcohol Use Disorders
Alcoholic cirrhosis is an advanced stage of liver disease caused by years of alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver is continuously injured and multiple scar tissues form. The build-up of scar tissue makes it difficult for the liver to properly function.
Stomach Ulcers and Alcohol
Excess alcohol use can negatively impact stomach ulcers by increasing the risk of ulcer development and slowing down healing. A person with a stomach ulcer who is drinking alcohol can worsen the ulcer and prevent healing.
Chronic alcohol use can lead to pancreatitis, a very painful inflammation of the pancreas. It is most often seen in patients who consistently consume more than three drinks a day over a five-year period.