Key Takeaway for Alcohol and Diabetes 

People with diabetes should avoid heavy drinking, typically defined as more than 1–2 drinks per day, depending on their sex. Heavy drinking can cause ketoacidosis and hypertriglyceridemia, which are both life-threatening conditions. Heavy drinking in a fasting state can also cause hypoglycemia, a dangerous drop in blood sugar. People with diabetes should talk to their doctor about how much alcohol is safe to drink.

An estimated one-third of people born after 2000 will develop diabetes at some point. Diabetes occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or cannot use insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone that lets the body use glucose (sugar) for fuel. When insulin is not doing its job, too much glucose stays in the blood, which can cause damage to the body over time.

While high blood sugar levels indicate diabetes, blood sugar can also dip too low, usually in response to medications taken to manage blood sugar or to insulin taken by people with diabetes to lower their blood sugar to healthy levels. Low blood sugar causes symptoms like dizziness, fainting, coma and death. It is important for people to recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar so they can quickly eat or drink something that contains fast-absorbing carbohydrates, like orange juice, hard candy or glucose tablets.

How Alcohol Affects Blood Sugar

Drinking alcohol can impact blood sugar unpredictably. Typically, drinking alcohol will result in an immediate spike in blood sugar. However, as it is metabolized, it can cause blood sugar to fall too low. Experiencing low blood sugar is most likely when multiple drinks are consumed and combined with insulin. Also, diabetes drugs can interact with alcohol,sometimes causing problems.

Insulin dosage is based on eating a certain amount of carbs and protein. When alcohol is consumed, the amount of insulin your body needs will be less, but people do not always know how and when to adjust their insulin to keep their numbers at the right level. When just one or two drinks are consumed, the effect will probably not be enough to cause a dangerous low, but moderate or heavy drinking will cause this risk to rise.

People with diabetes should take steps to stay safe if they decide to consume more than one or two drinks daily. 

Staying Safe With Alcohol and Diabetes

If you have diabetes, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to abstain from drinking alcohol altogether. As long as you are careful, you may be able to drink in moderation. Just be sure to check with your physician before consuming alcohol.

Limit Your Alcohol Intake

One step you can take is to limit your alcohol intake to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. You should always avoid binge drinking, which is defined as drinking more than four drinks within two hours for women and more than five within two hours for men. While it may be safe to use a limited amount of alcohol, you should still check with your doctor before drinking. 

Choose Low-Sugar Alcoholic Beverages

Many alcoholic beverages are high in sugar, causing a spike in your blood sugar levels when you drink. By drinking low-sugar alcoholic beverages, you may reduce this spike. It is important to note that even alcohol with no sugar will still result in a drop in your blood sugar a while after drinking.

Check Your Sugar Often

Another good step to take is to test your blood sugar more often for 12–24 hours after consuming alcohol, particularly if you drink more than one or two drinks per day. Checking your blood sugar every hour or when you feel symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is ideal.

Eat Regularly and Carry Snacks

Individuals with diabetes can also consume alcohol with food, which slows alcohol absorption. They should alsocarry snacks to bring their blood sugar level up if it becomes low. 

Wear a Medical ID

Wearing a bracelet identifying you as having diabetes is also helpful because the symptoms of low blood sugar can sometimes be mistaken for drunkenness, which means those around you might not know what is happening if there is no clear indicator that you’re experiencing low blood sugar levels.

Never Drink Heavily

The preceding steps will likely be less effective with heavy alcohol consumption since the effects of alcohol will be more pronounced. Heavy drinking, such as what often occurs with alcohol use disorder, will make you less aware of the signs your body is relaying to you and make it hard to detect a low blood sugar level.

How Alcohol Exacerbates Diabetes Complications

While alcohol can lead to unsafe changes in your blood sugar levels, it can also negatively impact your diabetes. Alcohol can create several different effects and complications in those with diabetes.

Alcohol-Induced Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is when your blood sugar levels are too low. Your body usually responds to low sugar by releasing stored sugar in your liver. Alcohol, however, interferes with this process. When you drink alcohol, your liver is busy processing the alcohol and can’t release stored sugar as effectively. This can result in low blood sugar levels or hypoglycemia. This is dangerous, especially for people with diabetes, who are more susceptible to changes in blood sugar levels.

Alcohol’s Impact on Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can happen if you have diabetes. It can lead to numbness, tingling or pain in your hands and feet. Alcohol can make this worse because it is toxic to nerve cells. If you already have nerve damage due to diabetes, drinking alcohol can make this damage worse and increase the symptoms. This effect can, unfortunately, be permanent.

Alcohol and Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, is a serious problem that can happen to people with diabetes. DKA occurs when your body can’t get enough sugar into your cells for fuel and starts burning fat instead. This process produces acids called ketones. Too many ketones in your blood can be very dangerous, impacting your body’s function and potentially causing you to go into a coma. When you drink alcohol, it can cause stress on your body in many different ways, increasing the risk of DKA developing. If you are at risk for ketoacidosis and drink alcohol, using alcohol can push you into a dangerous state of high acid levels in your blood.

Alcohol Interaction With Diabetes Medication

Most people with diabetes take oral medication or insulin to help manage their blood sugar levels. Alcohol can interfere with these medications. Some diabetes medications stimulate your pancreas to release more insulin, a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels. However, alcohol can cause low blood sugar by itself, so when it is combined with these medications, it can cause your blood sugar to drop dangerously low. Also, alcohol can interact with some medications, causing unpleasant or even potentially dangerous side effects.

Help for Heavy Drinking

If you are struggling to stop alcohol or are using alcohol even though it is negatively affecting you, you should seriously consider getting professional help. The best time to stop alcohol is now, and we can help you do it. Contact The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake today to learn how we can help you overcome alcohol addiction and live a life free from the complications it can cause.

If you are concerned about your heavy alcohol use and how it could impact your health, contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake today to discuss treatment options.

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Editor – Theresa Valenzky
Theresa Valenzky graduated from the University of Akron with a Bachelor of Arts in News/Mass Media Communication and a certificate in psychology. She is passionate about providing genuine information to encourage and guide healing in all aspects of life. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.