Diabetes is a serious medical condition that affects millions of Americans. Diabetes, short for diabetes mellitus, is a group of diseases that impacts the way your body uses glucose (blood sugar). About 24 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, but many individuals lead full and healthy lives despite the disease. If you are one of those people living with it, you may be wondering if alcohol is safe for those with diabetes.
Many people know a friend or family member diagnosed with this difficult disease. The statistics are staggering:
- 9.3% of the population, or over 29 million Americans, currently have diabetes.
- Of these 29 million, 8.1 million were undiagnosed.
- Just three years ago, 1.7 million new cases of diabetes were identified.
Many experts consider diabetes an epidemic, and drugs and alcohol are not helping the disease.
If you have received a diabetes diagnosis, it means your glucose levels are too high. Glucose primarily comes from the foods and beverages you consume.
There are two different types of diabetes: type I and type II. Type I diabetes typically develops in younger people, although it can develop in adults. With this type of diabetes, the body either does not make insulin or it doesn’t make enough insulin.
Type II diabetes, which is historically referred to as adult-onset diabetes, primarily impacts adults. This type of diabetes commonly develops in middle-aged and older individuals. However, it can also affect children. Insulin resistance, a condition that develops when the body’s muscle, fat and liver cells don’t use insulin to transport glucose into the body’s other cells, is the hallmark of type II diabetes.
While type I and type II diabetes are the most common types, there are other forms of diabetes as well. One example is gestational diabetes, which develops when a woman becomes pregnant. Sometimes, pregnant women make hormones that can ultimately lead to insulin resistance. While all pregnant women have insulin resistance late in their pregnancy, a woman will develop gestational diabetes if her pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin earlier in the pregnancy.
Risk factors for developing gestational diabetes include being overweight or gaining too much weight during the pregnancy. While gestational diabetes typically resolves after the baby is born, the condition makes it more likely that the woman will develop type II diabetes later on. Babies whose mothers had gestational diabetes are also more likely to develop type II diabetes and obesity.
Prediabetes is another concern. This condition is characterized by a blood glucose level that is above normal but is not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Someone with prediabetes has a higher chance of developing stroke, heart disease and type II diabetes. It’s possible to bring glucose levels back to normal in someone with prediabetes with moderate physical activity or weight loss.
There are a number of common symptoms of diabetes, and it’s possible for individuals with type II diabetes to have much milder symptoms that go unnoticed. Some common symptoms associated with the disease include:
- Frequent urination
- Constant feelings of being thirsty or hungry even though you’re eating
- Pronounced fatigue
- Trouble with your vision, such as blurriness
- Cuts or bruises that take longer than normal to heal
- Unintentional weight loss (most often seen in type 1 diabetes)
- Numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands and/or feet (frequently associated with type 2 diabetes)
Other symptoms may include the presence of ketones in the urine and frequent infections. Some other complications can develop over time, including damage to the nerves, kidneys and eyes.
Heart disease is also one of the most serious concerns of diabetes. The risk of having heart disease or stroke doubles in comparison to individuals without diabetes, and it’s important to note that the typical signs and symptoms of a heart attack might not be apparent when you’re also dealing with diabetes.
Diagnosing and Treating Diabetes
Early detection is best for slowing the symptoms of diabetes. Symptoms of type I diabetes tend to appear suddenly and are typically the reason why blood sugar levels are checked. However, symptoms related to other types of diabetes may come on much more slowly or in some cases might not even be apparent. Anyone with a body mass index of 25 or over, regardless of age, and individuals over the age of 45 should be screened for diabetes.
Maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle through a healthy diet is ideal for treating all types of diabetes. When it comes to diet, many healthcare professionals recommend focusing on fruits, vegetables and whole grains while reducing consumption of sweets, animal products and refined carbohydrates. While it’s okay to include sugary foods on occasion, it’s best to focus on foods that are high in fiber and nutrition and low in calories and fat.
Physical activity is also important for managing diabetes. Exercise increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which results in your body requiring less insulin to transport sugar to various cells. Ideally, the goal should be to participate in at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. Those who are just starting a fitness routine should begin gradually.
Aside from eating healthier and participating in regular physical activity, there are other types of treatment available for type I and type II diabetes. For type I diabetes, treatment generally involves using an insulin pump or insulin injections, counting carbohydrates and checking blood sugar levels frequently. For type II diabetes, management includes monitoring blood sugar levels and possibly taking diabetes medications and/or insulin.
So why exactly is this dangerous?
If glucose becomes too high, it can damage many of the organs of the body. This is referred to as hyperglycemia. And if glucose is too low, hypoglycaemia occurs. Both can result in grave consequences.
Luckily, there is good news. Just like with any disease, diabetes requires constant monitoring and motivation to stay healthy, but an enjoyable, functional life is possible — especially if you avoid drugs and alcohol.
Alcohol and Diabetes
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you may be wondering, “How can alcohol affect diabetes?” or, “Is alcohol safe for diabetes?” While it’s generally safe to consume alcohol if you have diabetes, it is important to note that alcohol can affect diabetes types 1 and 2. Alcohol is high in calories and low in nutrients. When it’s broken down by the liver, alcohol is turned into fat, so consuming excess amounts can cause weight gain.
Alcohol can also cause elevated triglycerides, which increases your risk of heart disease. The good news for individuals with diabetes, however, is that you don’t have to stop drinking alcohol just because you have been diagnosed with the disease. The key is to drink alcohol in moderation and use caution. For example, someone with diabetes should avoid drinking on an empty stomach or when blood glucose levels are low.
For best results, you should follow diabetes-specific guidelines, which generally are the same as for those who aren’t diabetic:
- Women should limit themselves to one drink per day
- Men should avoid drinking more than two drinks per day
Following these guidelines, one drink is equal to a 12 ounce beer, 5 ounce glass of wine, or 1 1/2 ounces of distilled spirits such as gin, vodka, and whiskey. To ensure you’re drinking safely, there are other steps you can take as well:
- Avoid replacing food you normally eat with alcohol. In other words, if you regularly count carbohydrates, do not count alcohol as a carbohydrate.
- Sip your drink, rather than chug or gulp.
- Have a low or zero calorie drink nearby to stay hydrated, such as water.
- Opt for a lighter drink, such as a wine spritzer or a light beer, over heavier craft beers.
- Go with a calorie free drink mixer such as club soda or water if you are having a mixed drink.
- Avoid driving for several hours after drinking.
- Wear a medical ID stating that you have diabetes.
Choosing an Alcoholic Beverage
Your choice of beverage is also important when consuming alcohol. Certain drinks are less detrimental than others for maintaining goals of proper body weight, heart health and blood sugar levels. For non-alcoholic beverages, try diet soda, diet juice, diet tonic water and club soda instead of carbohydrate-rich mixtures such as regular soda and juices. For alcoholic drinks, try dry wines instead of sparkling wines, dessert wines, sweet wines and wine coolers.
Let’s get a look at carbohydrate and calorie levels in varying drinks. These 12 ounce serving sizes yield the following:
- A regular beer has 150 calories and 13 grams of carbs.
- Light beer has 100 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates.
- Nonalcoholic beer contains 60 calories and 12 grams of carbohydrates.
- A wine cooler has 215 calories and 30 grams of carbohydrates.
In comparison, a 4 ounce serving of dry white wine, red wine or rosé includes 80 calories and a trace amount of carbohydrates.
For mixers, here’s a look at 4 ounce servings of some popular options:
- Tonic water has 11 grams of carbohydrates and 41 calories.
- Tomato juice and bloody Mary mix contains 25 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates.
- Juices, such as pineapple, orange and grapefruit, have 60 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrates.
- Non-caloric mixers such as mineral water, club soda, diet soda and sugar-free tonic have zero calories and zero grams of carbohydrates.
One of the main concerns of drinking alcohol when you have diabetes is the potential health problems it can trigger. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a common concern among those with diabetes.
If you’re managing diabetes with exercise and diet alone, you’re still at risk of developing low blood sugar levels when drinking alcohol. In addition, consuming alcohol can cause serious low blood sugar reactions if you’re taking insulin or diabetes pills that stimulate insulin production.
One of the main reasons for this effect is the way that alcohol is processed in the liver. While the liver typically releases glucose to maintain blood sugar levels, when a person is drinking alcohol, the liver is focused on breaking down the alcohol. As a result, it does not emphasize releasing glucose into the bloodstream. This can cause low blood sugar levels, especially if you’re drinking alcohol on an empty stomach.
It takes the liver between one and one and a half hours to finish processing each alcoholic beverage you consume, and there’s a risk of low blood sugar levels during this time. In general, the more alcohol you drink, the more your risk for serious low blood sugar levels increases. For example, having two drinks doubles your low blood sugar risk time for 2 to 3 hours. The best way to prevent this from happening is to avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. You should always drink alcohol with some form of snack or meal that contains carbohydrates.
The effects of alcohol on diabetes can vary widely from person to person, but some of the effects you could see include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased triglyceride levels
- Stimulated appetite, which can affect your blood sugar control
- Interference with diabetes medications or insulin
- Slurred speech
- Increased heart rate
Some symptoms of alcohol consumption can also closely mimic those of hypoglycemia. The levels become too low when it becomes apparent the body doesn’t have enough sugar to fuel itself. In many cases, symptoms of hypoglycemia become apparent when the blood sugar level is 70 mg/dL or lower. Early symptoms can include:
- Feeling shaky
- Pounding heart
- Pale skin
Over time, if hypoglycemia isn’t properly treated, symptoms may become more severe. This can include:
- Passing out
- Numbness in the mouth and tongue
- Poor coordination and/or concentration
- Having bad dreams or nightmares
There Is Always Hope
After learning how fragile the relationship is between diabetes and alcohol, you may feel discouraged. Remember that there is always hope. Diabetes, like any disease, requires constant monitoring, awareness and education to stay healthy. A healthy life is possible, but drugs can often distort our thoughts and actions.
If you’re worried about fighting the battle with alcohol while having to manage your diabetes on a daily basis, there is help. Make the choice to heal and get rid of your reliance on alcohol with 12 Keys Rehab Center. Our holistic program focuses on recovery through a combination of science, spirit, body and family.
The 12 Keys ground-breaking approach concentrates on removing obstacles that stand in the way of your recovery. We won’t judge and there are no lectures.
Alcohol does not cause diabetes. However, it can provoke symptoms of diabetes, which often require proper treatment. Alcohol can cause hypoglycemia up to 24 hours after consumption. You will need to check your blood glucose level before drinking, while you’re drinking and up to 24 hours after. It’s a good idea to check your blood glucose level before going to bed, as well. A safe blood glucose level is between 100 and 400 mg/dL.
It’s important to note that symptoms of consuming too much alcohol and hypoglycemia can be very similar. Symptoms may include disorientation, sleepiness and dizziness. This is where the medical ID bracelet explaining that you have diabetes will come in handy. In some cases, you may not receive adequate treatment if your hypoglycemia symptoms are mistaken for drinking too much alcohol.
Whether you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes or have had the disease for a while, you will be pleased to know that alcohol is safe to consume with diabetes. However, it’s always important to remember to drink responsibly. While alcohol cannot cause diabetes, it can affect your body differently than someone who does not have the disease. If you find yourself unable to control the amount of alcohol you are consuming, rehab can be a positive step toward recovery. Contact 12 Keys Rehab to learn more about how rehab can help you regain control of your life.