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What Are the Effects of Alcohol on Diabetes?

Drinking alcohol can cause complications for people who have diabetes.
Fruity, dessert-type mixed drinks can have an especially high sugar content.
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  • Written By: Anna T.
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 10 July 2014
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The effects of alcohol on diabetes typically include blood sugar levels that rise and drop rapidly along with worsening of most other diabetes complications. Some problems many diabetics face that alcohol can negatively impact are clogged arteries and nerve damage. Alcohol could also cause medications for controlling blood sugar levels to work incorrectly, which might result in dangerously low blood sugar levels. Alcoholic beverages that are too sugary, such as daiquiris and dessert-type drinks, may additionally cause blood sugar levels to go too high. It is important for diabetics to always be mindful of what they eat, and getting too intoxicated may result in poor judgment regarding food choices that could cause life-threatening problems.

Even though the effects of alcohol on diabetes are potentially dangerous, doctors do not always tell diabetic patients that alcohol is entirely off limits. Most people with diabetes are allowed a few alcoholic drinks per day unless their doctor states otherwise. For diabetic men, it is not recommended to have more than two drinks a day. Women are typically advised to have no more than one drink per day. Diabetics who consume alcohol are usually advised to drink very slowly and only with meals.

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Blood sugar levels are one of the primary negative effects of alcohol on diabetes. When a person drinks, the liver has to work harder than normal to get the alcohol out of the bloodstream. It takes the liver longer to do this with alcohol than it does with food. When a diabetic person drinks, his or her liver is spending too much time working on getting the alcohol out of the blood and neglecting the important job of maintaining blood sugar levels.

Diabetics who have seriously low levels of blood sugar may go into insulin shock, which is often life threatening. If a diabetic drinks too much and then passes out as a result of insulin shock, the people around him might believe he passed out because he is intoxicated and not realize anything serious is wrong. This could mean that the diabetic in question will not get the medical attention he needs, and there might be a chance he will die. This is one of the main reasons why binge drinking can be so dangerous for diabetics, particularly when the diabetic is around people who do not understand his condition.

The effects of alcohol on diabetes medications are also important for a diabetic to consider before having a drink. Most diabetes medications are designed to lower high blood sugar levels. When a diabetic drinks alcohol, her blood sugar levels often drop lower than normal. When this is combined with diabetic medications, the levels can become too low. Most doctors recommend checking blood sugar levels before, during, and after an alcoholic beverage is consumed, and this is most likely even more important for diabetics who are on medication.

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Discuss this Article

pollick
Post 2

I had to learn that the key phrase is "with meals". If I have a cocktail by itself, my blood sugar will go up immediately and then I'll have a bad drop in a few hours. If I have a drink with a meal, however, then it's only as bad as having a dessert or a regular soft drink. The rest of the meal prevents a spike.

AnswerMan
Post 1

I was never a heavy drinker, but when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I decided I had to swear off alcohol. It was more about living a healthier lifestyle in general, and when I drank I was prone to make other bad dietary decisions.

Now I avoid alcohol strictly because of the carb count. A lot of mixed drinks and spirits are packed with carbohydrates, just like sugary soft drinks. If I drink even one frozen alcoholic drink, like a magarita or a mudslide, my blood sugar level will skyrocket. As much as I enjoy an occasional light beer or a cocktail, I have to watch myself at parties or clubs.

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