If you have diabetes and are wondering if you can drink alcohol, you’ll be happy to know that many diabetics can — but only if they do so responsibly. Research indicates that drinking alcohol can actually reduce the risk for heart disease, among other health benefits. However, it’s important to consume only a moderate amount and to follow the same guidelines as someone who doesn’t have diabetes. Your doctor can give you more specific information on whether it’s safe for you to drink and how much you can drink. If your doctor determined that you can safely consume alcohol, it’s vital to always consider the potential risks.
What Are the Risks of Drinking Alcohol as a Diabetic?
Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you’re likely already taking various precautions for your health, even without taking alcohol into account. With type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce any insulin, while with type 2, the body is either resistant to insulin or has too little of it. Both types increase the risk for various health problems, which can worsen with alcohol. Also, if you struggle with alcohol misuse, it’s especially important to keep these potential risks in mind as a diabetic. Alcoholism and diabetes can be very dangerous when they co-exist.
The following are some of the risks associated with drinking alcohol as a diabetic, according to the American Diabetes Association:
- Alcohol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar): Large amounts of alcohol can cause blood glucose levels to fall (moderate amounts may cause them to rise), resulting in hypoglycemia. This may last up to 24 hours after drinking, so always check your blood sugar level before and after drinking alcohol to make sure it’s where it should be. It’s also important to never drink on an empty stomach, since food helps regulate blood sugar.
- Alcohol can interfere with medications: Both alcohol and certain diabetes medications can cause blood glucose levels to fall, and alcohol can create these effects within minutes of drinking. Therefore, combining these two substances increases the risk of hypoglycemia, which can be fatal.
- Alcohol interferes with liver function: When you consume alcohol, most of it is metabolized in the liver. This could prevent the liver from effectively regulating blood sugar, which is why it’s so critical to check your sugar before having a drink. Drinking alcohol when your blood glucose is low can be very dangerous.
- Alcohol can affect other medical conditions you may have: There are various health conditions associated with diabetes that can be complicated by alcohol consumption. These include high blood triglycerides, diabetic nerve damage and diabetic eye disease.
How Can Diabetics Drink Alcohol Responsibly?
Some would argue that the most responsible way to consume alcohol as a diabetic is to not consume any at all, but for others, alcohol is a staple in social settings. So if you’re diabetic, and your doctor has determined that you can drink, the following tips can help you stay safe while consuming alcohol:
- Know your limits: Never consume more than one serving of alcohol a day if you’re a woman and no more than two a day if you’re a man.
- Know the symptoms of hypoglycemia: Make sure your friends and loved ones know them as well. Symptoms include dizziness, confusion, weakness, pale skin and sweating.
- Test, test, test: Get in the habit of testing your blood glucose level more often than usual, since alcohol can cause it to rise or fall.
- ID, please: Always wear your diabetes ID bracelet so that those around you will know of your condition, in the event that you require medical attention.
- Check the carbs: Some alcoholic beverages have more carbohydrates than others, so it’s important to always read the label of your beverages before making a decision about a certain drink.
Can diabetics drink alcohol without risk? Some can, if they drink in moderation and take extra precautions, but for others, it’s not recommended, even in moderation. Always consult your doctor if you have any specific questions, since no two diabetic patients are exactly alike. And if you or a loved one needs immediate care as a result of alcoholism and diabetes, or any other related condition, call 911.