Taking alcohol is a social lifestyle to many that has benefits and demerits. Studies show that drinking moderate alcohol can reduce your risk of dying from heart disease. If you are not diabetic, drinking alcohol can reduce your risk of contracting the disease. However, excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to serious health complications, including damaging your heart. If you have diabetes, taking alcohol can cause your blood glucose to rise or fall. You don’t have to quit alcohol entirely because you have diabetes. When you manage your drinking habit and take a few precautions, you can be able to enjoy your favorite drink. The main goal when you are diabetic and want to drink alcohol is to keep it moderate. That means if you have to drink alcohol, you should do it moderately when your blood glucose levels are under control. If you have diabetes, it is important you discuss with your doctor to determine whether it is safe to consume alcohol.

What happens when you drink alcohol?

When you drink alcohol, it moves straight to the blood stream without being metabolized in your stomach. When you drink alcohol, it is normally metabolized by the liver. For an average drinker, it takes about 2 hours for one drink to be metabolized. Therefore, if you are drinking more alcohol than what is being metabolized by the liver, excess alcohol will move to other organs such as the brain. If you are diabetic and are using oral medications or insulin, drinking alcohol can interfere with them. Drinking alcohol can lead to low blood glucose levels, even when you are using insulin medications. This is because the liver will try to remove alcohol from your blood, rather than regulating your blood sugar levels. To avoid the risk of low blood sugar as a result of taking alcohol you can take the following preventive measures:

  • Carry with you a quick source of sugar such as hard candy.
  • Don’t take alcohol on an empty stomach.
  • Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol. If you have to drink, men should have 2 drinks and women 1 drink per day.
  • Do not exercise and drink alcohol at the same time. Doing so, may lead to low blood sugar levels.
  • Keep checking your blood glucose before, during and after taking alcohol.

Because alcohol has the ability to interact with diabetes drugs, it is important you talk to your doctor about using the medication while drinking alcohol. They will determine the best medication you should use to treat your diabetes.

Diabetes and alcohol use

If you have type 1 diabetes, a condition where you cannot produce enough amounts of insulin, drinking moderate alcohol can cause your blood glucose to rise. This condition is known as hyperglycemia that can lead to serious health complications if left untreated. When you drink excessive alcohol, it can lead to low blood glucose levels, a condition known as hypoglycemia. This is because when you drink alcohol, it can prevent the ability of liver to release glucose into the bloodstream. This is more significant for people who are diabetic and require insulin medication, because it means that their liver cannot release enough glucose to prevent blood glucose from falling too low. When you drink alcohol, it can impair your liver for several hours. If you go to bed without taking simple carbohydrates it can lead to the risk of having hypoglycemia.

Alcohol and diabetes can be a serious combination that can lead to death in case you have hypoglycemia. It is important you check your blood sugar before you go to bed and after waking up. This will help you prevent your blood sugar from going too low. If you are taking a long term insulin injection at night, it is important you don’t miss it. Missing your bedtime insulin injection can cause your body to release ketones which can increase your risk of having ketoacidosis. It can be confusing to think that alcohol is a carbohydrate drink that can cause our blood sugar levels to rise when we drink it. However, as you have seen above, alcohol can also lead to low blood sugar in the long term. If you are diabetic, it is important you monitor your blood sugar levels regularly when you drink alcohol.

Other health risks of alcohol consumption

Remember, alcohol is a caloric drink, which can lead to weight gain. This can make it difficult for you to cut more weight. When you take one drink of alcohol, it should be considered as two exchanges of fat. Excessive consumption of alcohol can also increase your risk of having high blood pressure. Heavy drinkers of alcohol should slowly reduce their consumption of the drink over a period of one to two weeks. If you are a heavy drinker and suddenly stop drinking, it may lead to severe blood pressure. In addition, drinking alcohol can impact your judgment making it difficult for you to make the right food choices. If you are diabetic and are taking insulin medication together with a diet, it can adversely affect your ability to control blood sugar levels. Alcohol contains high amount of sugar and calories that can increase your levels of triglycerides. When your triglycerides level is too high, it may increase your risk of obesity, heart disease or even stroke. If you are type 2 diabetic and have high levels of triglycerides, it could be a sign that you are not properly treating your condition. Therefore, it is important you exercise regularly and reduce the amount of alcohol you drink.

Side effects

Drinking excessive alcohol when you are diabetic can lead to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). Also, moderate consumption of alcohol can lead to hyperglycemia. Therefore, it is important you check your blood sugar after drinking alcohol to make sure it is in a healthy zone. In case you experience the following symptoms of hypoglycemia, you can take a quick carbohydrate to raise your blood sugar levels.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Irritability

Make sure you wear a medical ID that alerts people you are diabetic. In case you feel dizzy or confused, they will know your symptoms is as a result of hypoglycemia and not alcohol.

Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.