Alcohol affects your blood sugar in unusual ways, but there are ways to improve the effects alcohol has on your blood sugar levels.
The role of blood sugar in your overall health is extremely important to understand for quite a few reasons, and it’s also helpful to know how alcohol affects blood sugar.
Article at a Glance:
- Blood sugar is the concentration of sugar in the blood at one time.
- Alcohol can increase and decrease blood sugar levels to dangerous levels if you have diabetes.
- If you don’t have diabetes, alcohol can increase your risk of developing it and contribute to excess calories and changes in blood sugar due to increased insulin secretion.
- Pay attention to labels and serving sizes because different alcoholic drinks impact sugar levels differently.
Does Alcohol Have Sugar?
Alcohol itself does not contain sugar; however, many alcoholic beverages also contain added sugar. Drinks such as vodka, beer or gin will not contain any sugar, while other drinks such as mimosas, martinis and wine all do contain sugar. Anyone drinking an alcoholic beverage will need to look at the nutritional facts on specific beverages to know how much sugar they contain.
What is Blood Sugar?
Blood sugar, also called blood glucose, is sugar that’s carried to the cells through the bloodstream. Blood sugar generally refers to the concentration of sugar in your blood at a specific time.
We get sugar from the foods we eat, and it’s the body’s job to regulate blood sugar levels, so they don’t go too high or low.
Throughout the day, it’s not uncommon for blood sugar levels to go up and down based on when you eat and how your body releases a hormone called insulin. If you’ve just eaten, your blood sugar levels will go up, and then they’ll settle back down. If you have diabetes, however, your blood sugar levels may have to be specially managed.
If your blood sugar is always high, you have hyperglycemia, which can happen in people if their diabetes isn’t being managed well. If your blood sugar is below normal, it’s called hypoglycemia, and this can happen in people with diabetes if they accidentally use too much of their medication.
So, what role does alcohol play in all of this, and how does alcohol affect blood sugar?
How Does Alcohol Affect Blood Sugar?
The liver’s functionality is an important part of understanding how alcohol affects blood sugar. Your liver is a key component in regulating your blood sugar levels throughout the day. When you drink, it impacts the liver and, more specifically, its ability to release glucose into your bloodstream as it’s supposed to. Alcohol impairs liver function and can keep your liver from releasing enough glycogen to keep your blood glucose levels from going too low.
Does Alcohol Raise Blood Sugar?
Alcohol technically does not have sugar itself; however, most alcoholic beverages contain sugar that will cause an increase in blood sugar to occur. Additionally, alcohol contains “empty calories” that do not provide the body with energy but do have to be processed by the body. This keeps the body from processing sugars, causing blood sugar levels to rise while alcohol is metabolized.
Does Alcohol Lower Blood Sugar?
While alcohol does cause a spike in blood sugar, it often also leads to a drop in sugar after this initial spike. Alcohol changes how the pancreas functions and leads to an increase in insulin while inhibiting the liver’s normal ability to release sugar. This pair of effects leads to an overall drop in blood sugar.
Alcohol and Diabetes
Along with the potential for your blood sugar level to go too high or low, many medicines for diabetes aren’t compatible with drinking alcohol. If you have diabetes and are concerned with alcohol and blood sugar interactions, you should plan on checking your levels both before and after drinking. It’s also important to check levels before going to bed to ensure you don’t enter into a period of hypoglycemia while asleep. Be especially careful about medicating high sugar levels caused by alcohol use, as these can drop suddenly, causing a dangerous episode of hypoglycemia.
Can Diabetics Drink Wine, Beer or Other Alcoholic Drinks?
Everyone’s specific situation is different, and no one should make an important medical decision without first speaking with their doctor. As a general rule, however, people with diabetes can safely use alcohol in moderation. Drinking alcohol can be addictive and especially dangerous for those with diabetes; binge drinking or heavy drinking should definitely be avoided, as it may cause dangerous episodes of hypoglycemia.
ADA Guidelines on Alcohol & Blood Sugar
The American Diabetes Association does have guidelines regarding alcohol and blood sugar and how alcohol affects blood sugar. Some of their recommendations include:
- The advice when it comes to alcohol and blood sugar is no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
- If you have diabetes, you shouldn’t drink when your blood sugar levels are low or you have an empty stomach.
- People with diabetes shouldn’t count the calories in an alcoholic drink as a carbohydrate choice in their meal plan.
- Certain types of alcoholic beverages may be more detrimental for people with diabetes, including heavy craft beers.
The amount of carbs and sugar varies in every alcohol, so it’s important to pay attention to labels and serving sizes when considering safe alcohol and blood sugar practices.
Is Wine Good for Diabetes?
Some studies suggest that drinking a glass of wine a day may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These results, however, are controversial, and other studies suggest that additional ingredients in the wine, not the alcohol, provide this positive health effect. This seems to be supported by the fact that it is wine specifically and not any alcoholic drink that helps reduce the risk of diabetes.
It is important to note that while wine may help reduce the risk of developing diabetes, it may not be safe to use for someone who already has developed diabetes. Additionally, heavy use of wine or any alcohol negates any positive effect the wine may provide.
Best Alcoholic Drinks for Diabetics
People with diabetes are safest avoiding any alcoholic beverages. If alcohol is used, wine is thought to be healthier than other types of alcohol when considering the risk of diabetes. Finding truly sugar-free alcohol for diabetics is difficult. Drinks low in sugar and alcohol content are ultimately the best option for those with diabetes who choose to use alcohol.
Effects of Alcohol on Blood Sugar in Non-Diabetics
Even those who are not diagnosed with diabetes should be aware of the ways alcohol affects blood sugar. These include:
- Alcohol is high in sugar and calories, which can raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. Drinking moderately isn’t likely to lead to type 2 diabetes, but excessive drinking over time can be a trigger for its development.
- If you drink alcohol, it’s important to factor in those sugars and calories when you’re looking at your overall diet.
- Even if you don’t have diabetes and drink excessively, it can cause low blood sugar because drinking increases insulin secretion, although it is unlikely these levels will get dangerously low.
How Long Does Alcohol Affect Your Blood Sugar?
Alcohol affects your blood sugar for as long as it is in your body. The effects of alcohol on your blood sugar will initially increase as the sugar from alcohol enters your blood, then peak once the maximum amount of sugar in the alcohol has been absorbed. This often occurs in about one–two hours.
Once your body has absorbed all the sugar it can from alcohol, it will start to use up the sugar, decreasing your blood sugar levels. As the liver inhibits the release of more sugar, your blood sugar levels will lower. This makes your blood sugar artificially low as long as the alcohol keeps impacting your liver’s normal function. Once enough alcohol has been eliminated, your liver will regain the ability to release sugar. This often takes about 12 hours.
Does Quitting Alcohol Lower Blood Sugar Levels?
Quitting alcohol will help your blood sugar levels stabilize and reduce spikes in your blood sugar. The body often eliminates these spikes in blood sugar by turning the sugar into fat, creating obesity, sometimes known as a “beer belly.” By stopping alcohol use, you will reduce your risk of obesity which, in turn, will improve your blood sugar levels.
Can Alcohol Cause Diabetes?
There is debate on whether light to moderate amounts of alcohol use can increase the risk of diabetes. However, in general alcohol use is known to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. There are several ways that alcohol may do this, including:
- Damaging your pancreas where insulin is made
- Increasing your weight, a known risk factor for diabetes
- Decreasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin
- Impairing the liver, which helps regulate blood sugar levels
The safest way to avoid any of the potential risks of alcohol and diabetes is to avoid using alcohol altogether.
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American Diabetes Association. “What Can I Eat? Alcohol.” Accessed May 21, 2021.
Kim, Soo-Jeong & Kim, Dai-Jin. “Alcoholism and Diabetes Mellitus.” Diabetes & Metabolism Journal, April 2012. Accessed May 21, 2021.
Higuera, Valencia. “Does alcohol affect blood sugar levels in diabetes?” Medical News Today, April 26, 2017. Accessed May 21, 2021.
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