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.

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, which is normal, and it’s the body’s job to regulate blood sugar levels, so they don’t go too high or low. When a person has balanced blood sugar, it’s called homeostasis.

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 who don’t have a good handle on their diabetes. If your blood sugar is below normal, it’s called hypoglycemia, and this can happen in diabetics 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 Raise and Lower Blood Sugar?

Alcohol and Blood Sugar When You Have Diabetes…

The liver’s functionality is an important part of understanding how alcohol affects blood sugar. Your liver is a key component when it comes to 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. So, if you have diabetes, drink alcohol and take insulin as a medicine, you may experience hypoglycemia.

With alcohol and blood sugar, blood sugar can increase, then decrease to a dangerous point. This occurs because alcohol is high in sugar, causing an initial spike. Your body releases insulin to bring this high sugar level down and inhibits the release of more sugar from the liver. This causes your blood sugar to initially spike, then to decrease. This can be especially dangerous if you are using insulin or other diabetes medications because it can lead to hypoglycemia.

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 do have diabetes and you’re 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 make sure that you don’t enter into a period of hypoglycemia while you’re asleep. Be especially careful about medicating high sugar levels caused by alcohol use, as these can drop suddenly, causing a dangerous episode 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.

Alcohol and Blood Sugar When You Don’t Have Diabetes…

So, what should you know about how alcohol affects blood sugar if you don’t have diabetes? Some of the ways alcohol affects blood sugar 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 1–2 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.

Why Does Alcohol Make Blood Sugar Levels Drop?

Alcohol makes your blood sugar levels drop by inhibiting the liver’s ability to release glucose. Alcohol also creates an initial sugar spike that makes your body process sugar at a higher rate, causing the spike in sugar to be quickly metabolized below what is normal. When these two factors are combined, it makes your blood sugar levels drop after the initial spike in sugar.

What’s the Relationship Between Alcohol and Diabetes?

There is debate on whether light to moderate amounts of alcohol use can increase the risk of diabetes. Alcohol use, however, 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 to regulate blood sugar levels

The safest way to avoid any of the potential risks of alcohol and diabetes is to avoid using alcohol altogether.

RELATED: Alcohol & Diabetes

If you want to start living an alcohol-free life but can’t seem to stop, help is available. Contact The Recovery Village to discuss treatment options that can fit your needs. 

  • Sources

    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.

  • Medical Disclaimer

    The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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