Expert-reviewed by Ashwini S.Kanade, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience
Fact-checked by Aditya Nar, B.Pharm, MSc. Public Health and Health Economics
You’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and put on a controlled diet. But what about consuming alcohol? Whether you are an occasional social drinker or a more frequent one, as a diabetic you must have wondered about these things – will it affect my sugar levels, or is it okay to have a drink or two?
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Here’s some information to help you make an informed decision.
How does alcohol affect diabetes?
Soon after you consume alcohol, your blood sugar levels drop and this hypoglycaemia may last for up to 24 hours. Normally, the liver compensates for this drop by releasing glucose from its emergency stores. But alcohol has the effect of blocking glucose production in the liver; thus your blood sugar may drop drastically leaving you in grave danger.
Besides, because the symptoms of hypoglycaemia are similar to those of excess alcohol – confusion, dizziness and sleepiness – you, or others around you, may not realize that you are in danger. (1)
So now, you’re probably saying, “Excessive alcohol is bad! – fine. But how do I know what is excessive?”
Follow these hacks so you don’t have to give up alcohol completely.
How much alcohol is okay to have?
Alcohol in moderate quantities is what doctors advise. This is the same quantity which is considered safe for non-diabetics. The American Diabetes Association ® (ADA) says that men must have not more than 2 drinks per day and women not more than 1 drink per day. Considering that 1 drink is a glass of wine, about a pint of beer and 30 ml of spirits such as gin, rum, vodka or whiskey.
Follow these guidelines
- Never drink on an empty stomach; have your drink with some food.
- Reduce the amount of alcohol you consume by diluting your drink with liquids that don’t add up to the calories – ice or water is best.
- If you’re on insulin, check with your doctor if you need to reduce the dose on days when you consume alcohol.
- Avoid unfamiliar drinks that may have a higher quantity of alcohol. (1,2)
Will alcohol interfere with diabetes medicines?
Alcohol interacts with certain oral hypoglycemic drugs, leading to a headache and nausea. In diabetics on tolbutamide, it has been observed that single episodes of consuming alcohol prolong the drug’s action, whereas chronic drinking reduces the availability of the drug. (3)
Let’s assume you do not have any medical complications of diabetes right now – but you definitely need to ask:
Does alcohol increase risk of complications?
Alcohol worsens the pain and other uncomfortable symptoms in those diabetics who have nerve damage. (1,2)
Diabetics with high triglyceride levels must be extra careful. Alcohol will cause a further elevate the levels, thereby increasing the chances of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) that in turn worsens diabetes, because insulin reserves get reduced. (4)
Heavy drinking can reduce visual acuity (the clarity of vision) and worsen eye disease in diabetes, too. (4,5)
In simple words, alcohol is okay for diabetics provided you consume it within the adequate quantity. Overdo it, and you’re staring disaster in the face.
And just in case you are thinking alcohol seems like a good way to lower your high blood sugar levels – stop right there! The effects of alcohol are highly unpredictable, and the risks are just not worth it. Stick to the time-tested formula of diet, exercise, medication and a low-stress life, and you’ll do just fine.
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(1) American Diabetes Association. Alcohol. Retrieved on: September 20, 2017. Available at http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/alcohol.html
(2) L.H. Seng, J. Seah, M. Cheong, T.L. Jen. The Diabetes Companion. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. 2009. Available at https://books.google.co.in/books?id=YSWJAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA56&lpg=PA56&dq=alcohol+and+deepavali&source=bl&ots=IQvNfLPE2n&sig=K4FqCsp1isvScFQw8j-zV3d9sro&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjOyvbAjPfWAhXJsY8KHURVA404ChDoAQhHMAY#v=onepage&q=alcohol%20and%20deepavali&f=false. Chapter – Alcohol, Page numbers 55-56
(3) National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. No. 27 PH 355 January 1995. Available at https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa27.htm
(4) N. V. Emanuele, T.F. Swade, M.A. Emanuele. Consequences of Alcohol Use in Diabetics. Alcohol Health and Research World. 1998. 22(3); 211-219 Available at: https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-3/211.pdf
(5) C.C. Lee, R.P. Stolk, A.I. Adler, A. Patel, J. Chalmers, B. Neal et al. Association between alcohol consumption and diabetic retinopathy and visual acuity-the AdRem Study. Diabet Med. 2010 Oct; 27(10); 1130-7. DOI: 10.1111/j.1464-5491.2010.03080.x.