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4 Things to Know About Alcohol and Your Diabetes

March 17, 2020 | in Food & Diet, Managing Your Blood Sugar Levels

Author Denise Parent, BSN Regis University, Denver CO
Parkland Medical Center
Editorial Review Phoebe Stoye, A.B. in Neurobiology, Harvard College
Clinical Review Nicholas Yozamp, MD, Washington University in St. Louis
Brigham and Women's Hospital

Managing diabetes can seem like a full-time job. Counting calories, grams of carbohydrates, and units of insulin can quickly become overwhelming. Reading food labels, learning about nutrients, and making changes in your diet are all challenging tasks. However, learning how to control your blood sugar is the key to maintaining your healthiest state and protecting your body from the effects of diabetes. Here are some things to consider when drinking alcohol.

Your Weight

Extra weight is a major factor when it comes to managing diabetes. The calories in alcohol are quickly stored as fat. Mixed drinks and higher proof alcohol have the most calories. Mixers are often high in calories and sugar. No sugar options such as seltzer water, club soda, or diet soda are good substitutes. Lower calorie choices include light beers, dry wines, plain vodka, and champagne. Bring your own bottle when attending a house party to ensure you have a good choice to enjoy. Plan ahead before going to a bar or restaurant and decide what you will order before you even get there. It is recommended that women can consume one drink per day, while men may have two drinks daily.

Your Blood Sugar Levels

Drinking alcohol can actually cause blood sugar to be too low. This is especially true if you are taking medications like Metformin to control your diabetes. Because your liver is busy trying to manage the alcohol in your body, it is unable to release extra glucose to maintain safe blood sugar levels. For this reason, it is important to eat healthy food when drinking any alcohol. Don't skip a meal trying to balance calories. You should also check your blood sugar more frequently for 12-24 hours after drinking, particularly before going to sleep. Remember to have a healthy snack (here are some snack ideas!) before bed too.

Your Body

It is important to listen to your body. Symptoms of being drunk can be similar to extreme high or low blood sugar. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded, extra sleepy, or start having nausea and vomiting, you should stop drinking alcohol immediately. Check your blood sugar and seek medical attention as needed. Be sure your friends and family are familiar with diabetes so they can help you. Teach them how to check your blood sugar and review the results. Educate them to recognize the symptoms of high and low blood sugar levels.

Taking Alcohol Too Far

Binge drinking can result in a condition known as alcoholic ketoacidosis, which should be treated in a hospital. While blood sugar may be only slightly elevated—or even normal—excessive vomiting and lack of food intake can lead to abnormal electrolyte levels. In addition, you may develop abdominal pain with pancreatitis. Pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, occurs as your pancreas struggles to keep up with your body's demand for insulin and digestive enzymes. The pancreas can develop scars, making it more difficult to do its job in the future. Avoid binge drinking by alternating alcoholic beverages with a glass of water. Sip alcoholic drinks slowly, rather than gulping them down. It is possible to safely consume alcohol as a diabetic. The key is in balancing your drinks with a proper amount of food and paying attention to the ways in which your body is reacting. Enjoy responsibly!