Alcohol and Diabetes

People with diabetes are particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol use. Excessive drinking lowers blood sugar levels, which can cause liver problems and other health effects. To avoid these consequences, diabetics should closely monitor their glucose levels and refrain from heavy drinking.
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Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not properly process glucose, or blood sugar, from food. As a result, glucose in the blood can reach dangerous levels and create serious health problems. When not managed properly, diabetes can lead to numerous physical problems, including nerve, kidney and heart damage.

Research has suggested that alcohol may help reduce the risk for heart disease. Although doctors usually tell diabetics that moderate alcohol use is safe, people with the condition can experience numerous health consequences related to drinking, including alcohol addiction.

Knowing the alcohol-related diseases and disorders can prevent you from experiencing severe physical complications.

How Drinking Affects People with Diabetes

People with diabetes should be wary of alcohol use. According to a report published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, consuming two to four drinks per day can affect diabetic blood sugar levels.

Drinking can exacerbate symptoms of diabetes and may contribute to conditions that result in diabetes:

  • Heavy drinking can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin, leading to Type 2 diabetes.
  • Chronic pancreatitis, a condition caused by heavy drinking, can lead to diabetes.
  • Drinking can cause weight gain, increasing a person’s risk of developing diabetes.

Alcohol breaks down in the liver, where the body’s blood sugar is regulated. For people with diabetes, drinking can decrease blood sugar levels and block the production of glucose. Instead of regulating glucose during drinking sessions, the liver is working to eliminate alcohol from the body.

Low blood sugar levels, a condition called hypoglycemia, can lead to rapid heartbeat, fatigue or dizziness. Dangerously low glucose levels can cause loss of consciousness, seizure or coma. Hypoglycemia is considered to be a medical emergency.

Intoxication and low blood sugar levels share certain characteristics, including sleepiness, dizziness and disorientation. Diabetics who experience insulin shock may mistake their symptoms for those of drunkenness and fail to seek immediate medical care.

Alcohol Use Among Diabetics Can Cause Cardiovascular Disease and Other Issues

Alcohol interacts with certain medications that treat diabetes, such as Glynase and Prandin. The liver processes these medications and alcohol. For people who take diabetic medications, drinking too much can damage the liver.

Heavy alcohol use can cause people with Type 1 diabetes to develop ketoacidosis, a condition that produces nausea, abdominal pain and fatigue. The condition occurs when the body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones.

Heavy drinking can also cause alcohol-induced hypertriglyceridemia, a condition that can lead to cardiovascular disease. Moderate drinking can increase the risk of peripheral neuropathy, a disorder related to nerve damage that can cause weakness, numbness and pain.

Drinking may cause people to ignore their health needs. A 2013 study published in the journal Acta Diabetologica indicated that alcohol use can reduce adherence to self-care recommendations for diabetes treatment, such as exercising or monitoring glucose levels.

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Responsible Drinking for People with Diabetes

If you have diabetes, heavy or binge drinking can be dangerous. But moderate drinking can be less risky if you remain cognizant of your health while using alcohol. Before you go to a bar or attend social drinking situations, consider these strategies for protecting your health.

Wear Medical ID

It’s a good idea to wear identification to inform people that you are diabetic. Medical ID such as a necklace, bracelet or keychain will alert others that your symptoms of intoxication may actually be signs of hypoglycemia. And it may discourage bartenders from serving you too much alcohol.

Know Your Limits

Drinking too much can lead to numerous unpleasant symptoms, including dizziness and loss of consciousness. It is important to avoid drinking beyond your capacity. Drink slowly and avoid high-alcohol craft beers, which can increase your likelihood of getting drunk.

Monitor Your Blood Sugar Level

If you have diabetes, you understand the importance of self-testing your blood sugar. Keep an eye on your glucose levels before, during and after drinking alcohol. You should monitor your blood sugar even if you do not feel drunk.

Avoid Drinking on an Empty Stomach

Be sure to eat before you drink. Consuming alcohol on an empty stomach can expedite hypoglycemia in people with diabetes. Food slows down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and prevents low blood sugar.

Seek Advice from Your Doctor

Your doctor can explain the dangers of alcohol use and how it affects diabetes. A physician can also let you know whether your drinking behaviors could worsen other health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetic nerve damage.

Moderate drinking can be safe, but excessive alcohol use can exacerbate diabetes symptoms, damage the liver and create severe health problems. However, eating before drinking and periodically monitoring glucose levels can reduce the effects of alcohol on diabetes.

Matt Gonzales
Content Writer,
Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He graduated with a degree in journalism from East Carolina University and began his professional writing career in 2011. Matt covers the latest drug trends and shares inspirational stories of people who have overcome addiction. Certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in health literacy, Matt leverages his experience in addiction research to provide hope to those struggling with substance use disorders.
Medical Reviewer
Ashraf Ali
Psychiatrist, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health

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