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Alcohol and Diabetes: Is it Safe to Drink?

Alcohol And Diabetes: Is It Safe To Drink?

Type 2 diabetes can be a hard disease to manage because of how it can impact life in many ways.  There is an unpredictability with this disease that can make planning much more difficult.

Blood glucose levels can fluctuate, becoming too high or, the opposite, too low.  As you may know, blood glucose forms the main source of energy.  It is received from your diet and the hormone insulin.  This is made within the pancreas.  Thereafter, glucose moves into the cells of the body and is vital for energy.

Alcohol and Diabetes

It is understandable that from time to time you may wish to indulge in a few alcoholic drinks.  However, too much glucose in the blood can lead to health problems.  With type 2 diabetes, there are many complications that can occur, and this poses a real danger.

Diabetes affects life on a grand scale.  You must watch what you eat and regularly monitor blood glucose levels.  This makes planning a night out just to relax and have a few drinks rather hard.

Alcohol consumption poses difficulties for diabetics.  If you know you are going to drink, you must consider all possibilities.  This may be frustrating, but you must understand your body, your current health status and consider any side effects related to medicine you may be taking.

As I’m sure many know, alcohol has an intoxicating effect.  When you drink too much, you may not be in tune with the changes in your body and could miss the warning symptoms which include:

  • Feeling drowsy
  • Becoming confused
  • Dizzy

What is Alcohol?

Everyone consumes alcohol at some point, but do you really know what it is?

Alcohol contains high levels of sugar and calories and this can easily impact health when you are a diabetic.  It also increases weight which would have a bad impact on health.

Alcohol acts as a stimulant and this makes it much easier to enjoy yourself.  But, as alcohol is also a depressant, it slows down the central nervous system.

Alcohol affects the release of neurotransmitters in the brain.  If you start to struggle to form the right words, or are slurring or, finding it hard to walk straight, this is the effect on the neurotransmitters that does this.

What Ingredients in Alcohol Affect the Body?

When you have a drink, the chemical consumed is ethanol and it is this that leads to the sensation of being drunk.  When alcohol is made, fruits, grains and vegetables undergo a fermentation process.  Yeast and bacteria begin to react with the sugar present in your food.  Ethanol and carbon dioxide are the by-products of this process.

If you drink wine, it is made from the sugar in the grapes.  Beer is from fermented cereals including barley and rye.  If vodka is your drink of choice, the alcohol comes from potatoes or beets.

There is also a distillation process for spirits.  As some of the water is filtered out, this creates an increased concentration of alcohol.

The Longer the Fermentation Process, the Greater the Alcoholic Content

Some drinks are less problematic than others.  This means you can drink champagne, wine or have distilled alcohol along with a sugar free mixer.

It is best to avoid sugary mixed drinks or syrups because these add too many calories and sugar into your system.  If you consume these types of drinks, your blood glucose levels are likely to spike.

The pancreas produces the hormone insulin.  This leads to the cells of the body becoming sensitive to glucose levels.  Glucose is drawn from the blood by the cells which then reduces any blood glucose spikes.

Your pancreas may not produce enough insulin levels or, it may be that your cells have developed a resistance to it.  Irrespective of the cause, blood glucose levels would remain high.

For a diabetic, consistent high blood glucose levels can turn quickly to diabetic health problems and these include:

  • Nerve damage
  • The loss of vision
  • Increased risk for cardiovascular disease

How Much Alcohol is Okay?

Moderate drinking is less likely to cause an issue although you should be careful.

It is important that you take all necessary precautions prior to drinking.  It is worth noting that drinking a lot over a period of time can act as a trigger for diabetes.

It’s important to pay attention to the labels and of course, consider the units of drink.

One unit is 10 ml or 8g of pure alcohol.  Working in units is an easier way to calculate the drinks consumed.  On average, one unit will take your liver approximately one hour to process.

Certain types of alcoholic drinks are likely to have a greater impact on those with diabetes.

For every alcoholic drink you have, it is wise to have one glass of plain water.  This helps you to take in less alcohol but also, aids hydration.

By hydrating the body in this way, you will also avoid overeating.

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol?

Alcohol can play havoc with your body as it can increase your appetite.  Many people feel hungry after they have been out drinking and resort to getting a takeaway.

This of course, is likely to be detrimental to your diabetic diet.  By simply hydrating throughout the evening, you can avoid too great a risk to health.

Your body views alcohol as a poison and although it may make you feel good at the time, it is not healthy for you at all.  The liver must do its best to process any alcohol intake as quickly as is possible.

During this process, digestion slows down and so, any food that may have been consumed will not be digested.

This can lead to a much higher risk for low blood sugar.  You must comprehend that this potential risk can continue for some hours after you have been eating or drinking.  This occurs due to insulin being used as a food instead.

When eating out prior to drinking, it is important to also consider the food type consumed.  As you know, you must be careful to eat the right foods to achieve and maintain balanced blood glucose levels.

When you add alcohol on top of food, you may have recurring lows for up to a 12-hour period.  This is due to the body trying to process and get rid of the alcohol.

How to Manage Alcohol Levels Safely

It is perfectly reasonable to want to enjoy yourself, but remember, all things in moderation.

If you are determined to drink alcohol, do consider those extra sugars and calories.  If your blood glucose levels have been low already, or, you go out without having eaten, it is worth checking blood glucose levels prior to going out and again, afterwards.

This may seem like an unnecessary precaution, but it is important to ensure the status of blood glucose levels before going to bed to make sure that hypoglycemia does not occur.

To prevent hypoglycemia, try to drink alcohol slowly so that you drink less but consistently throughout the evening.

Eat prior to going out but eat well and consider the diet, medication taken and potential amounts of alcohol.  When the evening is over, it may be wise to have some food – perhaps a healthy snack so to prevent the risk of hypoglycemia.

The Dangers of Alcohol and Diabetes

Diabetic medicine and alcohol do not always work well together.

When you are prescribed your drugs, check whether you can drink alcohol when taking them.  It is easy to drink too much when out with others.  If everyone is buying rounds, this creates a real danger that you will have more than anticipated.

Do tell others that you are diabetic and inform them of the dangers.  It is worth educating friends in case you become ill. There is a risk that you call fall into an unconscious state and as a result, blood sugar levels can start to plummet.

Usually, if blood glucose levels drop, you would need to eat something so to stabilize them.  This would not be possible if you have passed out through over-drinking.  You may not wake up if this happens and there is a risk of seizures or even, death.

It is easy to forget to take any diabetic medication and to then pass out.  When this happens, blood glucose levels may rise dangerously high and could result in a coma or death.

Drinking too much alcohol can cause feelings of nausea or make you vomit which in turn, will lead to bouts of severe dehydration.

Your body may not be able to consume glucose.  We want to prevent hypoglycemia or diabetic ketoacidosis.

If you become seriously dehydrated following a drinking bout, this could lead to kidney failure.

If continuously vomiting, hydrating the body with plain water can help.  If you are unable to keep water down, it is important that you treat this as an emergency.  Seek medical help!

Drug Interactions

Alcohol should not be taken with many diabetic medications.  The outcome could be serious.  Some adverse reactions can lead to low blood glucose levels simply because the liver is unable to regulate glucose levels.  This is known as hepatic gluconeogenesis.

When alcohol combines with insulin, there may be an increase or decrease of the lowering of glucose.  This is largely dependent on how much you drink and of course, how often.

While it may be frustrating to constantly have to monitor alcohol or drinking habits, for the sake of your health, it is best to drink occasionally only (or never).

Do so when your diabetes is under control and regularly monitor blood glucose levels.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying yourself, but do not take risks.  The adverse reactions of alcohol and diabetes can be serious.


What started out as a self-discovering journey into minimizing the side effects of the standard type 2 diabetic treatment, has turned into a mission to share my findings with as many people as possible. There are several ways to take care of ourselves. Knowledge is power!

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