Have you ever wondered if diabetes and alcohol mix? While I will talk about some generalities, every diabetic may respond to alcohol differently. Some diabetics safely drink alcohol without problems while others have a number of issues. Monitor your diabetes closely and know what alcohol does to your body.
Alcohol and Blood Sugar Control
Alcohol actually has very little effect on overall control of your blood sugar. In general, most diabetics should follow the guidelines as non-diabetics if they want to drink:
- Women should not exceed more than 1 drink per day
- Men should not exceed more than 2 drinks per day
In this scenario a drink is equal to a:
- 12 ounce beer
- 5 ounce glass of wine
- 1.5 ounce drink with spirits
If you choose to drink you will want to talk with your healthcare provider to make sure the alcohol will not interfere with your medication or another medical condition.
Low Blood Sugar Reaction
You are at risk for developing low blood sugar when you are on treatment (insulin or pills) and choose to drink alcohol.
In a normal person, low blood sugar triggers the liver to generate glucose from stored carbohydrate in the liver. However, alcohol inhibits the liver’s ability to do this. The liver senses alcohol as a toxin that it wants out of the body. As a result the liver does not produce glucose until the alcohol is out of the body.
You can decrease your risk of hypoglycemia by never drinking on an empty stomach. Drinking with food, either a meal or snack, is a much better option. Additionally, you should check your sugar before going to bed and consider eating something small before going to sleep to prevent a low blood sugar reaction in the middle of the night– you want your blood sugar between 100 and 140 mg/dl before going to sleep.
Alcohol, Weight gain, & Diabetes
If you are trying to lose weight or just keep your weight under control, alcohol will not be your best friend. Alcohol adds significant non nutritional calories. Light beer contains 100 calories, while a sweet drink like a margarita may have as many as 250 calories. Additionally, when your liver breaks down alcohol it gets turned into fat (think beer belly). If you are trying to lose weight and taking in significant amounts of alcohol, you may be making it very difficult for yourself to lose or even maintain your current weight.
Should I Not Drink At All?
While this is a personal decision, too much alcohol is bad for anyone. It diabetics it can increase risk of longer term complications like heart attack or stroke by increasing weight, cholesterol triglycerides, and blood pressure. On a more positive note, small amounts of alcohol may decrease risk of heart disease.
A Few Tips For Drinking When You Have Diabetes
Here are a few tips to help manage alcohol when you have diabetes:
- Continue to eat regularly.
- Wear a medical ID bracelet (you really do not someone thinking you are drunk wean you are having hypoglycemia).
- Drink slowly
- Try a light beer
- Use a mixer of diet soda or water if you need a mixer
- Be careful about driving after you drink alcohol
- Consider delaying driving for several hours
- Know the symptoms of hypoglycemia and make sure people you are out with do too.
- Always have a source of sugar with you.
- Test more often as you may not display your typical hypoglycemia symptoms
Drinking when you have diabetes is a personal decision. Make sure you take steps to learn how alcohol affects you and your diabetes. Talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of drinking as well as specific strategies to manage safely.