Alcohol and Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that the guidelines for drinking alcohol are the same for the public AND people with diabetes. The ADA suggests no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.* There are some people who should avoid alcohol altogether. They are anyone with a history of alcohol abuse or anyone who is pregnant. People with diabetes who have medical problems, such as pancreatitis, high triglycerides or nerve damage should avoid alcohol. Some medicines may be unsafe when used with alcohol. Ask your pharmacist or doctor.

What are the safety measures? Drinking alcohol can affect blood sugar. Drink alcohol only if your diabetes is in good control. For those who take insulin or diabetes pills, low blood sugar can occur. Alcohol prevents the liver from making sugar. It remains in the body up to 8 - 12 hours. During this time, no sugar is released from the liver. The only sugar in the blood comes from food. Therefore, always eat food with alcohol to prevent low blood sugar. Plan to drink with a meal or snack. Mixing alcohol with exercise may cause even lower blood sugars.

Are there other things to consider? Too much alcohol can impair judgement. You could forget to check your blood sugar or take your medicines. You might overeat. This could increase blood sugar levels and cause weight gain. Alcohol does contain calories. If you need to lose weight, these calories need to be worked into your meal plan.

How does alcohol count? If you take insulin and do not need to lose weight, you can have one or two drinks in addition to your meal plan. Do not omit food. This may result in low blood sugar. If you use regular soda or orange juice as a mixer, the carbohydrates (carbs) should be counted into your meal plan. If you mix alcohol with a non-caloric beverage such as diet soda, it does not need to be counted. If you need to lose weight, alcohol must be counted into your meal plan.

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Remember ...

Drink alcohol only if your diabetes is under good control and only have one or two drinks per day. Always drink alcohol with food and never on an empty stomach! Avoid caloric mixers and if used, count the carbs into your meal plan. Be sure to avoid exercise before, during or after drinking. Carry carbs to treat low blood sugar levels and in case of an emergency, carry your diabetes I.D. with you at all times.

How can your doctor help you? Discuss using alcohol with your doctor. Your doctor will help you decide if it is safe to drink.

*American Diabetes Association Diabetes Care Volume 37, Supplement 1, January 2014 S29