Diabetes and Alcohol

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Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs due to defective insulin production or due to decreased responsiveness to insulin leading to raised blood glucose levels [1]. It is a common disease with increased prevalence throughout the world due to various factors. Diabetes if not controlled adequately and timely may also result in fatality. Various studies have shown that there is a close link between alcohol consumption and diabetes. It was found that alcohol consumption on occasional basis and in lesser quantities benefits by increasing the insulin sensitivity n the body and lowers the risk of diabetes. But at the same time, in moderate to heavy drinkers, there is a higher risk of development of diabetes.

Diabetes and alcohol

Alcohol consumption should always be carefully considered if a person is suspected to be at a risk of developing diabetes. Not only alcohol, but also the drink which is used to mix the alcohol can prove to upset the delicate calorie count in a diabetic individual’s diet. Alcohols and mixers can prove to have a lot of calories.

Some of the different ways in which consumption of alcohol may adversely affect diabetics include the following [2]:

  • Excess amounts of alcohol can cause the sugar level in the blood stream to fall to extremely low levels.
  • Sweet wine and beer can have a large amount of carbohydrates and may increase the sugar levels in the blood stream.
  • Alcohol can also prove to stimulate the appetite causing individuals to overeat. Alcohol can also prove to affect the abilities of judgment of individuals and lead them to make poor choices in food. Consumption of excess alcohol can be tempting, but it can lead to very poor choices of both food and other decisions.
  • Consumption of alcohol may tend to increase the blood pressure levels in individuals.
  • Excess alcohol consumption is linked to an excess of triglycerides in the body.
  • Alcohol may also prove to cause nausea and an increased heart rate, both of which are also complications associated with diabetes.
  • Drinking excess of alcohol can also increase the risk of hypoglycemia even after sleeping and waking up the next day.
  • In case diabetes has already caused some type of damage to the blood vessels or the nerves, consumption of alcohol can prove to increase the discomfort.

Diabetes alcohol

On drinking an alcoholic beverage, it is found that the alcohol penetrates into your blood stream without undergoing any breakdown in the stomach. This results in an increased level of alcohol content in the bloodstream within just 5-10 minutes of consumption. Since the metabolism of alcohol takes place in the liver, for an average weighing individual it takes almost two hours for metabolizing a single drink. If excess alcohol is consumed, then the excess alcohol travels through your bloodstream and enter other vital organs of your body, including the brain as the body is not able to metabolize alcohol at the rate same as your consumption rate. This is the primary reason why buzzing is felt after the consumption of alcohol.

For diabetic patients, especially those who are on insulin or other oral hypoglycemic drugs, heavy alcohol consumption poses higher risks as it interferes with the normal liver functioning. The liver instead of regulating the blood sugar level is diverted to eliminate alcohol from the blood stream, leading to much lower blood sugar levels that may also cause hypoglycemic shock.

Diabetes Alcohol

Type I Diabetes sufferers are usually young adults and as such, they need to maintain caution if they are looking to consume alcohol. Some of the tips for consumption of alcohol include:

  • Always keep a glass half full. If a second drink is offered, the half empty glass can help in making a polite refusal.
  • Always make sure to have no more than two drinks a day. It is also important to have the drinks slowly and along with food. Food must also be taken before going to bed.
  • In case a diabetic sufferer feels extremely drowsy and sleepy after moderate amounts of alcohol, then immediate medical attention will need to be provided.
  • Insulin will always need to be administered no matter if the diabetic is consuming alcohol or not.
  • It is best to let everybody know of the diabetes disorder when drinking in a group.

Some of the facts regarding the consumption of alcohol and diabetes include the following [3]:

  • Alcohol proves to interact with some of the medications used for the treatment of diabetes and may result in sudden and severe episodes of hypoglycemic attacks.
  • Alcohol prevents the liver from doing it regular functions and instead makes it focus on eliminating the alcohol from the blood stream.
  • Alcohol consumption on an empty stomach can prove to reduce the blood sugar levels at an alarmingly quick rate.
  • Blood sugar levels should always be monitored before, during and after the consumption of alcohol. The threat of hypoglycemia still lingers even after 24 hours from the consumption of alcohol and as such, the blood sugar levels always need to be monitored and made sure to be in check.
  • Excess alcohol can easily cause hypoglycemia which has similar signs and symptoms as drinking too much. As such, care must be taken in order to distinguish between these two.
  • Drinking slowly and along with food greatly reduces the chances of hypoglycemia and should always be followed.
  • The recommended limits of drinking should always be observed in order to prevent any unnecessary complications.
  • It is always recommended that diabetic individuals should carry around instant glucose medications while consuming alcohol to prevent the chances of episodes of hypoglycemia occurring.

Alcohol Diabetes

It is really difficult for alcohol addicts to quit drinking. Thus there are a few basic tips for diabetic patients who are into alcohol consumption

  • Heavy drinking should always be avoided. As per the American Diabetes Association, it is suggested that men should not have more than 2 drinks per day, while women should not have more than one, for both diabetics as well as non-diabetics.
  • Preparedness for emergencies must always be observed. Diabetics should always carry sugar tablets or some source of sugar along with them to avoid chances of a sudden hypoglycemic shock.
  • Consultation from physician for advice should always be taken. It is always better to reveal drinking habits to a physician and know the effects of alcohol on the health rather than try and manage two problems together.
  • Alcohol consumption should never be combined with exercise. Exercise and alcohol consumption when done in conjunction, increases the risk of low blood sugar conditions.
  • Regular monitoring of blood sugar before and after consuming alcohol should be observed. Monitoring of blood sugar should also be observed before going to bed.
  • Alcohol consumption when on an empty stomach should always be avoided. The presence of food in stomach lowers the rate of absorption of alcohol into bloodstream.
  • Diabetics should always carry an identity proof with the conditions of diabetes mentioned over it in order to get immediate management in case of a hypoglycemic shock. The symptoms of low blood sugar and excess consumption of alcohol are quite similar and include disorientation, nausea and sleepiness. There is a high chance of diabetic indivuals not getting appropriate attention for they are mistaken to be on excess alcohol.
  • Alcohol, if consumed, should be consumed slowly and should not be mixed with other drinks. Alcohol may be mixed with water, soda or sugar free diet drinks.
  • Diabetics who have consumed alcohol should never drive a vehicle as there may be sudden complications that can cause injuries.
  • It is absolutely essential for diabetics to know what drink they are having and also to eat well and know the recommended drinking limits.
  • Diabetics must ensure that they understand the symptoms of hypoglycemia and that they also relay this information out to close friends and loved ones. Cases of hypoglycemia can occur very suddenly. As such, diabetics and the people around them should know all about the symptoms and how they can be triggered by drinking alcohol.
  • Diabetics who consume alcohol should always keep a watch on both their waistline as well as the heart. Diabetics can have a number of illnesses related to the cardiovascular system and also other body organs. Consumption of alcohol can trigger complications, elevating the risk of diseases being encountered.

An alcoholic beverage may take above two hours to be completely digested and metabolized by the liver [4]. As such, it is essential that diabetics consume their drinks as slowly as possible. Excess of alcohol puts a lot of unnecessary stress on the liver and also, the complications of drinking at a quick speed may manifest after a few hours and may elevate at alarmingly quick rates. It is essential to always have food along with alcohol in order to counter the excess stress put on the liver and also to slow down the rate of absorption of alcohol into the blood stream.

Alcohol and Diabetes: Do They Mix?

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends alcoholics to ask themselves 3 basic questions:

  • Is your diabetes is under control?
  • Know from your physician if you have any health problems like diabetes or hypertension that alcohol may worsen?
  • Do you know the ill effects of alcohol on your health especially on diabetes?

Some of the tips in choosing alcoholic beverages for consumption include the following:

  • Alcohol intake should be limited in case of Type II Diabetes sufferers as they are generally obese and are looking to reduce weight. Alcohol can provide a lot of empty calories to the body and this can result in weight gain.
  • Diet juices, soda, water and sugar free alcohol mixers should be chosen.
  • Dry wines should be preferred instead of sweet wines, sparkling wines and dessert wines.
  • Light beer should be preferred over regular beer.

It is important that diabetic individuals maintain as much care as possible while consuming alcohol. Dangerous activities such as dealing with heavy machinery, driving a vehicle, activities which require coordination or concentration and also activities which require alertness should always be avoided. Alcohol consumption should never be combined with hot baths, saunas or steam baths as the heat in conjunction with the alcohol can cause the blood pressure levels to drop at an alarming rate.

A diabetic does not need to completely give up on alcohol, but however, individuals will need to take care of their drinking habits. There are also some substitutes for alcohol available which can greatly help addicts who also have diabetes symptoms. Drinking in moderate limits and within the recommended levels does not prove to cause complications in diabetes. However, care should always be taken by diabetic individuals as there may be sudden and serious complications at any point in time. It is essential to always consult a dietician or a professional healthcare provider before deciding on whether alcohol consumption is off limits for diabetics or not. Alcohol can prove to weaken the resolve of individuals battling diabetes. Alcohol can greatly affect the judgmental abilities of individuals and it may tempt them into making poorer food choices as well as lifestyle choices. While diabetics need not give up on enjoying the consumption of alcohol, they must proceed with extreme caution when doing so. Alcohol by itself can prove to cause a lot of trouble and impairment to individuals and when combined with other disorders such as diabetes, conditions could even worsen to the state of serious and life threatening ones.

In case diabetics decide on giving up alcohol for good, it is the best possible scenario [5]. However, giving up on alcohol, something which is so prevalent in society is not an easy task. Diabetics will need to decide for themselves whether the cost and the efforts they put into the consumption of alcohol is worth it or not. Furthermore, the expenses and the trouble that can be caused by alcohol related complications can be greatly detrimental to all aspects of a diabetic’s life. Diabetics will require a support group as well as advice from medical professionals before proceeding on with alcohol consumption.



[1] Moderate Alcohol Consumption Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes – A meta-analysis of prospective observational studies, Lando L.J. Koppes, Jacqueline M. Dekker,; vol. 28 no. 3 719-725 – March 2005 – DOI: 10.2337/diacare.28.3.719, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/28/3/719.short

[2] Prospective study of cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and the risk of diabetes in men, Eric B Rimm, June Chan,; BMJ1995;310:555 – 04 March 1995 – DOI: 1136/bmj.310.6979.555, http://www.bmj.com/content/310/6979/555.short

[3] Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review, Andrea A. Howard, MD, MS; Julia H. Arnsten, MD, MPH; and Marc N. Gourevitch, MD, MPH.; 140(3):211-219 – 3February 2004 – DOI: 7326/0003-4819-140-6-200403160-00011, http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=717163

[4] Smoking and diabetes in Chinese men, G T C Ko, J C N Chan, L W W Tsang, J A J H Critchley, C S Cockram,; 77:240-243 – 14 August 2000 – DOI: 10.1136/pmj.77.906.240, http://pmj.bmj.com/content/77/906/240.short

[5] Alcohol as a Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes – A systematic review and meta-analysis, Dolly O. Baliunas, Benjamin J. Taylor, Hyacinth Irving, Michael Roerecke,; vol. 32 no. 11 2123-2132 – November 2009 – DOI: 10.2337/dc09-0227, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/11/2123.short

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