The relationships between alcohol and hypoglycemia might be more complicated than you think.

Hypoglycemia is when a person has an extremely low level of glucose (sugar) in their blood. Hypoglycemia commonly occurs in people who have diabetes and can be a side effect of many diabetes drugs.

When you digest food, your body breaks down carbohydrates into different types of sugar; one of these is glucose. Glucose is the primary source of energy for your body. After you eat, it’s absorbed into your bloodstream and enters your tissues with the help of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas.

Hypoglycemia can be caused by certain medications, illnesses and hormone deficiencies. Another possible cause is excessive drinking.

Why Alcohol Causes Hypoglycemia

The relationship between alcohol and blood sugar is complex. It would seem counterintuitive at first to think that alcohol causes hypoglycemia. The reason is that alcohol contains a lot of sugar, so it would seem like it would cause a spike in blood sugar, rather than a decline. But there’s more to it than that.

So, how does alcohol cause hypoglycemia? A lot of it has to do with the liver.

Your liver is an integral part of regulating your blood glucose levels. Throughout the day, your liver releases glucose into the blood at a steady rate. However, drinking can cause the liver to be unable to release glucose into the blood effectively. The excess sugar in alcoholic drinks also causes the pancreas to release extra insulin, which lowers levels of blood sugar.

With alcohol and hypoglycemia, the risks can be particularly severe if you binge drink and you haven’t eaten within six hours. This makes it even more difficult for your liver to make new glucose because it doesn’t have the necessary materials.

People with diabetes are at increased risk if they are drinking and fall asleep without checking blood sugar.

If you do this, you may experience hypoglycemia overnight.

There is some belief that hypoglycemia also plays a role in the experience of alcohol withdrawal that alcoholics have when they stop drinking. For example, symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include confusion, irritability, shaking, nervousness, weakness and fatigue, which can also be symptoms of hypoglycemia.

So, what else should you know about alcohol and hypoglycemia? First, if you have diabetes, you should be very careful with your drinking because consuming more than a moderate amount of alcohol can prove dangerous. 

Alcoholism and excessive alcohol intake can cause problems in the functionality of most parts of your body. For example, you may not only have liver problems, but you could have kidney or adrenal gland problems because of excessive alcohol use. Hypoglycemia can also develop as the result of these issues. Also, alcohol use can impact the pancreas, which plays an essential role in keeping blood sugar levels balanced.

If you are experiencing a link between alcohol and hypoglycemia, the best thing you can do is cut down or stop drinking altogether and work toward consuming a balanced diet that will restore your health, address any nutritional deficiencies and keep your blood sugar levels stable.

If you’re someone with diabetes or problems regulating your blood sugar, you should also make sure that if you do drink, you monitor your levels of blood glucose very closely.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol abuse we are here to help. Contact The Recovery Village to learn more about our treatment programs and how we can help restore your health in recovery.

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Editor – Nicole LaNeve
Nicole leads a team of passionate, experienced writers, editors and other contributors to create and share accurate, trustworthy information about drug and alcohol addiction, treatment and recovery for The Recovery Village and all Advanced Recovery Systems sites. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol and Hormones – Alcohol.”“>“Alcoh[…] Alcohol.” National Institute of Health. Published 2000. Accessed May 10, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.