If you have diabetes, you know the work it takes to maintain a healthy lifestyle and good eating habits. But you also know that fitting into social interactions that are centered around food can be frustrating. But what can you do about alcohol? Drinking is often a big part of social interaction and connection, but it can be dangerous for a person with diabetes. How does alcohol affect the body of a person with diabetes, and can alcohol actually cause diabetes?

Learn more about alcohol and diabetes and whether or not it’s safe to drink as a diabetic.

How Does Diabetes Affect the Body?

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way you process sugar and causes elevated glucose levels in your blood. Diabetics often have to manage their blood sugar levels carefully, taking care that it doesn’t get too high or too low. Glucose is obtained through the consumption of foods with sugars and carbs. In a person without diabetes, when glucose enters the bloodstream, your pancreas releases the right amount of insulin, which allows the glucose to properly fuel your body. 

There are two major types of diabetes, and each one may have a different relationship with alcohol. In type 1 diabetes, your body lacks a hormone that allows you to make insulin, so when glucose enters your body, it can’t fuel cells. In type 2, your body can’t produce insulin properly and may not produce enough for your glucose levels. In both types, diabetes causes glucose to build up in your blood, which can cause some serious complications. It can cause frequent urination, weight loss, infections, and slow-healing wounds. 

Over time, it can damage your eyes, heart, kidneys, and feet. Diabetes can be treated with lifestyle adjustments and medication. However, people with diabetes often have to watch what they consume and manage their diets closely. Alcohol is one of the things people with diabetes need to be mindful about. But how does alcohol specifically affect diabetes, and is it off-limits?

Can Alcoholism Cause Diabetes?

You can get diabetes at any age by the type of diabetes you develop depends on how you get it. Type 1 diabetes usually develops before the age of 40, and its exact cause is unknown. It happens when the immune system starts to fight cells that are supposed to produce insulin. Eventually, your body doesn’t produce insulin at all, causing a rise in blood sugar levels that require treatment. Type 1 diabetes isn’t as common as type 2. Only around 5 to 10% of people with diabetes have type 1. 

The cause for type 1 diabetes isn’t well understood, and it’s thought to have a significant genetic component. It’s not usually caused by food or lifestyle to the same degree type 2 diabetes is. On the other hand, type 2 is often associated with issues like lifestyle, the food you eat, your weight, and exercise. Type 2 diabetes is often caused by overeating in a way that overworks your pancreas. An unhealthy diet can cause an excess of glucose in your system that requires your pancreas to work overtime. Your pancreas is resilient, and it can take a lot of work for a little while. But consistent unhealthy eating and other factors like a sedentary lifestyle can push you into diabetes. 

As your pancreas struggles to produce enough insulin, you may not feel any symptoms at all. A blood test can tell you if your blood sugar is high or if you’re pre-diabetic. But in many cases, you won’t feel any symptoms until you have diabetes. Alcohol may be one of the things that contribute to the development of diabetes. For one, many alcoholic beverages can be high in sugar or carbs. Drinks like beer and sugary mixed drinks may raise your blood sugar significantly. Alcohol can also prevent you from losing weight effectively. 

Processing alcohol is prioritized in the body, so when you drink, everything besides alcohol is stored. That’s why many diets encourage you to stay away from alcohol, even low-calorie liquors like whiskey. Your liver is also designed to store glucose in the form of glycogen. When you drink alcohol, it can cause your liver to focus on processing it over the sugar in your blood, causing a build-up. While alcohol use or an alcohol use disorder isn’t guaranteed to cause diabetes, it can contribute to it.

Can I Drink If I Have Diabetes?

But what if you already have diabetes and you’re wondering if drinking is now off the table? The answer depends on several factors, including your own personal experience with diabetes and your sensitivities. If you have trouble managing your blood sugar, alcohol may be risky. If you’ve found a diet that keeps your blood sugar under control, it may be possible to have a drink or two on occasion. When in doubt, check with your doctor to discuss the possibility of drinking and how you might be able to drink safely. If you are able to drink, there are a few things that can help you mitigate risk. 

Check Your Blood Sugar First

If you’re planning on eating or drinking anything that may not be optimal for a diabetic diet, it’s good practice to check your blood sugar first. If it’s too high or too low, you may want to deal with it before risking a drink. 

Moderate Strictly

Your liver is able to process a certain amount of alcohol before it becomes too much for it to handle, which leads to mild to severe intoxication. The amount of alcohol you can drink and safely process will depend on your weight and gender. Generally, one to two drinks for women and two to three for men is a safe bet. For someone with type one diabetes, you may want to limit to one drink per occasion. Drinking slowly can also help mitigate risk. Drinking one or two drinks over the course of the evening can help give your body time to process what you’re putting in. This is a good idea for people without diabetes, and it can be essential for someone with diabetes.

Avoid Sugary Drinks

Some alcohol is relatively low in sugar content, like vodka and whiskey. Beer and wine may be very high in sugar or carbs, but they’re generally lower in alcohol content. Remember, whatever you drink, your liver will prioritize processing alcohol first and may neglect to deal with the glucose. The worst of both worlds may be liquor mixed with sugary fruit juices or other cocktails. In that case, you have a high alcohol content and high sugar. 

Drink with Food

Eating before or while you drink can help slow down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into your digestive system. That’s while people feel like they get drunk faster if they drink on an empty stomach. Eating something with carbs may also help prevent hypoglycemia, which alcohol can sometimes cause. 

Check Your Blood Sugar After

Will eating and drinking sugary foods and beverages can cause your blood sugar to go up, alcohol can also make it go down, causing hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can cause you to feel dizzy and lightheaded, but so can alcohol. It may be difficult to monitor your symptoms when you’re under the influence of alcohol. If your blood sugar drops and you start having hypoglycemia symptoms, the effects of alcohol may only make them more pronounced. If you’re going to drink, bracelets or tags that can tell others that you have diabetes may be an important safety precaution in case you pass out or fall asleep. 

Avoid Alcohol If You Have a History of Misuse

If you have a history of alcohol misuse, avoiding alcohol altogether is the safest bet. Like other aspects of your diet, you need to exercise control and caution when it comes to what you put into your body. Alcohol use disorders can take away that control you’ve worked so hard to achieve in managing diabetes. 

Can Alcohol Interfere with Diabetes Medication?

Yes, alcohol can interact poorly with diabetes medication. Certain diabetes treatments involve medications like sulfonylureas and meglitinides, which work to lower your blood sugar by increasing insulin production in your pancreas. If you add alcohol to the mix, which can lower your blood sugar, it can combine with the medication to cause your blood sugar to plummet. It can lead to hypoglycemia, or a condition called insulin shock, which is a serious condition that needs emergency medical intervention. 

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