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Having diabetes does not mean you cannot drink alcohol at all. You can still have that occasional beer or a small glass of wine. But before you drink, it is important for you to know what alcohol can do to your blood glucose levels.

Effects of Alcohol on Diabetes

effects of alcohol on diabetes

Like everything you eat and drink, alcohol too can affect your blood glucose levels.

Your liver regulates blood glucose levels by storing excess glucose when you eat and releasing glucose in between meals. Alcohol can interfere with this process and cause your blood glucose to fall such that you develop low blood glucose.

People with diabetes who are long-term heavy drinkers can suffer a drop in blood glucose levels. They may be drinking alcohol but not eating well, and have persistent vomiting which causes the body to reduce its insulin production. Without insulin, the body will start to burn fat for energy instead. This process releases a harmful chemical called ketones into the blood, causing a serious condition called alcoholic ketoacidosis.

Alcohol is high in “empty” calories. If you drink excessively and fail to exercise and eat a healthy diet, this can contribute to obesity and high triglycerides, and increase your risk for a host of diabetes complications. Furthermore, alcohol may affect your judgement, causing you to indulge in unhealthy food choices.

In short, if you currently do not drink alcohol, don’t start. No one needs to drink alcohol. But if you choose to drink, do so with care and in moderation.

Related: How to Raise That Non-Alcoholic Glass and Survive

Before You Drink, Ask Yourself Three Questions:

before you drink, ask yourself three questions

  • Is my blood glucose well controlled?

  • Does my doctor say I can drink alcohol?

  • Do I know how alcohol can affect my diabetes?

If you answer “yes” to all three questions, it is probably alright for you to have a drink. But if you are not sure whether alcohol is safe for you, check with your doctor.

If you drink alcohol, drink only in small amounts:

  • Men should drink no more than two standard drinks a day.

  • Women should have no more than one standard drink per day.

A standard alcoholic drink is equal to one can (330 ml) of regular beer, half a glass (100 ml) of wine or one nip (30 ml) of spirit (vodka, whiskey, gin).

Related: Alcohol and Health — Setting Your Drink Limits

Tips for Safer Drinking When You Have Diabetes

tips for safer drining when you have diabetes

Before drinking alcohol

  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eat a meal or snack before drinking.

  • Do not replace food from your regular meal with alcohol.

  • Never drink when your blood glucose is too low.

  • Always carry sugary snacks with you in case your blood glucose levels dip.

  • Make sure your friends know you have diabetes and that symptoms of low blood glucose can look the same as being drunk, so that they can help you if needed.

  • Wear a medical identification tag that says “I have diabetes”.

While drinking alcohol

  • Limit yourself to one drink.

  • Choose lower-calorie light beers, or drinks mixed with diet soft drinks or tonic water.

  • Sip your drink slowly.

  • Have a glass of water by your side to keep you hydrated.

  • Stick to your meal plan and do not over-eat.

  • Do not take diabetes pills with alcohol as this might cause you to feel giddy and imbalanced.

After drinking alcohol

  • Take a cab or have someone drive you home.

  • As drinking can affect your blood glucose for up to 24 hours, check your blood glucose before going to bed to make sure it is in a safe range as advised by your doctor. If it is too low, eat a snack to raise it.

  • Set an alarm or get someone to wake you up every few hours through the night and early morning in case you have delayed low blood glucose.

  • Get up on time the next day for any food or diabetes medication you normally take.

Know how to keep yourself safe, before you raise the glass for the next toast!

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References

  1. Emanuele, N. V., Swade, T. F. & Emanuele, M. A. (1998). Consequences of alcohol use in diabetics. Alcohol Health & Research World. 22(3): 211-219.
    Retrieved from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-3/211.pdf

  2. Carlssson, S., Hammar, N. & Kaprio, J. (2003). Alcohol consumption and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 26(10), 2785-2790.
    Retrieved from http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/10/2785