A Complete Guide to Diabetes and Alcohol

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Diabetes produces various health and lifestyle challenges, particularly affecting the foods and drinks one can consume. Alcohol is a drink that brings with it questions on long-term health effects. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, 78.2% of Canadians over 15 reported drinking alcohol on at least one occasion in the last year. However, some types of alcohol like red wine, may actually have health benefits.

The Risk of Side Effects Between People with Diabetes Consuming Alcohol

According to Healthline (depending on how much you drink), alcohol can influence blood glucose levels to rise or fall. Because some people take diabetes medications that have high risk for low blood sugars (i.e. insulin), mixing them with alcohol can cause hypoglycemia, which can become a medical emergency. Hypoglycemia, commonly known as low blood sugar, may include the symptoms of hunger, high heart rate, confusion, irritability, perspiration, shakiness, and weakness. Even clumsiness, difficulty speaking, disorientation, loss of consciousness, convulsions, or death may occur.

A big issue with getting hypoglycemia while drinking is that the symptoms for both hypoglycemia and drunkenness are similar. Many people with diabetes confuse the symptoms of hypoglycemia with the effects of alcohol, and subsequently, fail to get medical attention. Because alcohol impairs judgement and stops individuals from thinking clearly, it’s difficult for people to respond fast while they’re having a low.

Alcohol can also impair the liver, which is critical for a person with diabetes. When you’re short on sugar, one of the liver’s major functions is to release sugar. However – if the liver is too busy getting rid of alcohol – it won’t be able to complete its function and you’ll be more likely to experience lows. Alcohol should never be consumed with a low blood sugar.

The medication Glucagon, which is commonly used to treat severe hypoglycemia, will not be effective when alcohol is in the body. This medication’s job is to release glucose stored inside the liver as an emergency method when blood sugars are too low. Because the liver’s function is to cleanse your body of alcohol when you drink, instead of acting on the Glucagon’s instructions to release glucose, your body will instead continue to break down the alcohol in your system. According to Diabetes Canada, an ambulance should be called immediately if someone with diabetes passes out while drinking.

Nataliya Vaitkevich, Pexels

Now, to answer the question “can people with diabetes drink alcohol?”, the short answer is yes, they can, as long as they don’t have any other existing conditions that requires them to avoid alcohol altogether. However, they should exercise extreme caution when consuming alcohol.

People with diabetes can take the following steps to ensure that when they choose to drink alcohol, they are doing it safely and in a way in which they are not compromising their health:

  • Wearing a medical ID bracelet when drinking in a group so that people can be aware that you are a person with diabetes and could require medical attention.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol on an empty stomach.
  • Never drinking alcohol on a low blood sugar and continuously checking their blood sugar before and after drinking.
  • Make sensible choices when it comes to alcoholic beverages, like:
    • Use sugar-free mixers with hard alcohol, such as water, diet tonic, or club soda.
    • Try choosing drinks with less alcohol, such as mimosas, light beer, or dry wine.
    • Try to dilute wine with club soda (according to HealthLink BC).
  • The safest amount of alcohol to consume for a person with diabetes is no more than two standard drinks per day for men and one standard drink per day for women.
    • According to Diabetes Canada, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as two standard drinks per day or fewer than 10 drinks per week for females and three standard drinks per day or less than 15 drinks per week for males.
  • Ensure to speak to your healthcare provider about consuming alcohol prior to consumption.

 

People should be careful of how much and what type of alcohol they consume. The key is moderation. Understanding the risks of drinking before doing so can allow people with diabetes to enjoy alcoholic beverages safely.

Burst, Pexels

The Risk of Developing Diabetes

When talking about a person without diabetes and alcohol, the big question is “can drinking alcohol cause diabetes?” The short answer is yes, too much alcohol may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as too much alcohol long-term can cause persistent inflammation of the pancreas. According to Mayo Clinic, alcohol limits the pancreas’ capacity to produce insulin, also known as pancreatitis. American Addiction Centers mentions that type 2 diabetes can be caused by the death of specific cells in the pancreas responsible for the synthesis, storage, and release of insulin. Drinking alcohol can cause the body to be less sensitive to insulin.

However, the emphasis here is on too much alcohol. The amount of alcohol and the length of the alcohol abuse is key to consider. According to a study on the link between type 2 diabetes and alcohol, women who drink six units every day, or men who drink eight units every day, are at greater risk of type 2 diabetes. This risk can be lowered by ensuring alcohol consumption is kept to a minimum. 

Writer Jerone K. Jerome once said, “We drink one another’s health and spoil our own.” For people with diabetes, alcohol can be dangerous due to the risk of hypoglycemia. Social drinking and the associated peer pressure around drinking can be a strong social detriment. It is important to inform friends and family that you have diabetes and ensure they understand the potential health consequences should they drink excessively. The key to safe alcohol consumption is balance, and drinking can be an enjoyable experience when enjoyed in moderation.

Share your opinions, questions, and comments down below and be sure to read more of our blog posts focused on diabetes, nutrition, and health!

References:

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction. (2019, September). Alcohol – Canadian Drug Summary. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction. http://www.ccsa.ca/.

Diabetes Canada Writers. (2018). Alcohol and Diabetes. Diabetes Canada. https://www.diabetes.ca/DiabetesCanadaWebsite/media/Managing-My-Diabetes/Tools%20and%20Resources/alcohol-and-diabetes.pdf?ext=.pdf.

Drinkaware. (2021, February 7). Alcohol and Diabetes. Drinkaware. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/alcohol-related-diseases/alcohol-and-diabetes.

HealthLink BC. (2019, December 9). Diabetes and Alcohol. HealthLink British Columbia. https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/abg8758.

Kaliszewski, M. (2021, March 30). Alcohol & Diabetes: Can Alcohol Cause Diabetes? American Addiction Centers. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/alcohol-abuse-and-diabetes.

Katherine Zeratsky, R. D. (2020, July 11). Diabetes: Does alcohol and tobacco use increase my risk? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/expert-answers/diabetes/faq-20058540.

Misha, Amrita. “Why Doesn’t Glucagon Work with Alcohol?” Beyond Type 1, Beyond Type 1, 12 July 2021, beyondtype1.org/why-doesnt-glucagon-work-with-alcohol.

Santos-Longhurst, A. (2019, March 8). 7 Facts about Diabetes and Alcohol Use. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/facts-diabetes-alcohol#7.-You-can-save-your-life-by-knowing-your-limit.

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