Hypoglycemia is a health condition in which a person has an extremely low level of sugar or glucose in their blood. Hypoglycemia is something that frequently occurs as a side effect of diabetes drugs, but it can develop for other reasons as well.

When you digest food, your body breaks down carbohydrates into different types of sugar, one of these being 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.

While hypoglycemia is most often a side effect of diabetes medication, it can have other causes as well. These include the use of certain medications, certain illnesses, hormone deficiencies and the overproduction of insulin. Another possible cause is excessive drinking.

Alcohol and Hypoglycemia

It can be complicated to understand the relationship between alcohol and hypoglycemia and understand why alcohol causes hypoglycemia. 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 is it that science explains why alcohol causes 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 is responsible for releasing glucose into the blood at a steady rate. However, drinking can cause the liver to be unable to release glucose into the blood effectively. With alcohol and hypoglycemia, the risks can be particularly severe if you binge drink and you haven’t eaten within around six hours. This makes it makes it even more difficult for your liver to make new glucose.

Another extremely dangerous situation related to alcohol and hypoglycemia can occur if you fall asleep after drinking, without thinking about your blood sugar — especially if you have diabetes. If you do this, you may experience hypoglycemia overnight.

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

There’s another relationship at play with alcohol and hypoglycemia. When your blood sugar is low, the level of neurotransmitters in your brain can also drop. You may develop a dependence or addiction to alcohol as a result. As your blood sugar drops, you may experience cravings for alcohol as a way to bring your blood sugar levels back up.

So, what else should you know about alcohol and hypoglycemia? First, if you have diabetes, you should be very careful with your drinking because drinking 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, and hypoglycemia can 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 someone who is experiencing a link between alcohol and hypoglycemia, the best thing you can do is cut down or stop drinking altogether. You can then start focusing on the nutritional deficiencies you may have as the result of your drinking, and work toward consuming a balanced diet that will restore your health 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 closely.

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.