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Alcohol and Diabetes: Benefits and Risks of Alcohol to People with Diabetes

Author: Kevin Olsen

Last Updated: 9/13/2022

Diabetes is a medical condition that impacts insulin and blood sugar levels. There are two common types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is a condition that prevents the pancreas from producing insulin. It’s a chronic condition that many people are born with. On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes develops later in life and becomes chronic. Type 2 diabetes is a condition where the body doesn’t properly regulate blood glucose levels. 

When someone with diabetes drinks alcohol, the risk of experiencing side effects increases. Alcohol also changes blood sugar levels, so it’s important to understand the interaction between alcohol and diabetes. Plus, there are also some benefits of alcohol that you should consider when drinking moderate amounts of alcohol.

What is the Connection Between Alcohol and Diabetes Based on Studies?

Having Diabetes makes it difficult to control your Blood Sugar, or Blood Glucose levels. When you add drinking alcohol on top of that it makes it far more difficult. Heavy alcohol use disrupts many metabolic processes your body undergoes with your blood glucose levels and this can cause Type-2 Diabetes. 

Alcohol affects many things in your body related to Diabetes. Heavy drinking causes higher triglyceride levels, lower Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL or “bad cholesterol”) levels, and higher High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL or “good cholesterol”) levels. This causes Hypertriglyceridemia and increases your risk of Heart Disease and impairs your insulin production. As Diabetes is a condition based on your body’s blood sugar it makes sense that alcohol can affect diabetes since alcohol’s main ingredient is ethanol and ethanol is made from sugar.

What are the Benefits of Alcohol to Diabetes?

There are some benefits to alcohol when you have Diabetes. Heavy drinking is never recommended but if you have a moderate amount, one or two drinks per day, it can help to improve your blood glucose management. A1C is a blood test measuring your average blood sugar levels in the last three months. A moderate amount of drinking can help to lower your A1C numbers. While there are some benefits, there are also risks.

What are the Risks of Alcohol to Diabetes?

Despite the potential to help improve your blood glucose levels, there are risks when it comes to alcohol and diabetes. Firstly, if you do not already drink one or two drinks daily, do not start now. While there are minor benefits, the greatest benefit is not drinking alcohol. One of the biggest risks you face when drinking alcohol when you have Diabetes is Hyperglycemia or low blood sugar.

When you mix heavy alcohol use with some of the medications you may take for your diabetes it can result in very low blood sugar levels. Hyperglycemia is also caused because the Liver breaks down alcohol and also stabilizes blood sugar. The problem? The liver can’t do both at the same time. Because of this, the Liver will often prioritize breaking down the liver over stabilizing blood sugar. Hyperglycemia is very dangerous because it causes slurred speech, difficulty walking, dizziness, and even confusion.

Can Alcohol Cause Diabetes?

Yes, alcohol will cause diabetes but it is indirect. Alcohol causes diabetes by causing inflammation within the pancreas. This inflammation causes the pancreas to have issues secreting insulin. This causes Diabetes. This will not happen from moderate to low consumption of alcohol. It happens when women average more than one drink per day and men drink more than two drinks per day on average.

Can Drinking Alcohol Increase My Chances of Developing Diabetes?

Yes, drinking alcohol lowers your blood sugar control and makes the levels unpredictable. Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of several complications related to Diabetes. These complications are; Higher blood pressure and higher risk of heart disease, nerve damage, and eye problems. Heavy alcohol consumption disrupts many metabolic processes in your body and when this happens it can lead to developing Type-2 Diabetes.

Does the Type of Diabetes also Affect the Effect of Alcohol on Our Body?

Yes, some alcoholic beverages can have more adverse effects on your diabetes than others. Alcohol is directly related to Type-2 Diabetes. Some beverages you may want to stick to are Lite beers, dry wine which is typically going to be red wine, liquor mixed with seltzer or tonic water, and spiked seltzer drinks such as Truly or White Claw. These drinks are better because they are low-carb options. 

Carbohydrates raise your blood glucose levels and therefore make them unpredictable. This is very bad if you have diabetes. Some drinks you will want to avoid because they are higher in carbs are regular beers, sangria, margaritas, and liquor mixed with soda.

What are the Effects of Alcohol on Blood Sugar?

Alcohol makes your blood glucose levels unpredictable. It does this because the carbohydrates within the alcohol raise the sugar levels in your blood. This is mostly associated with drinks such as beer or sweeter wines. 

While moderate drinking raises your blood sugar levels, daily excessive drinking actually will lower your blood sugar levels to dangerous levels. Alcohol and Type-2 diabetes are often linked together but this is more detrimental to people with type-1 diabetes. This is because while both type-1 and type-2 diabetes are related to a low level of insulin production, type-1 diabetes is more commonly associated with low levels of blood sugar. If you already have very low levels of blood sugar because of your type-1 diabetes, then adding alcohol to that and lowering it, even more, can be life-threatening. 

Does Alcohol Raise Blood Sugar?

Yes, alcohol does raise blood sugar levels in the body. There are multiple ways alcohol can affect the levels of blood sugar within your body, both directly and indirectly. 

Directly, alcohol causes both alcohol-related liver Disease and also damages the way the pancreas produces insulin. Both of these affect the way your body changes sugar into energy and halts that process. Because of this, the body has a higher level of glucose in its blood. Indirectly alcohol increases appetite and encourages overeating which will increase your blood sugar levels as well.

Does Alcohol Lower Blood Sugar?

While alcohol can affect how your body uses sugar and raise blood sugar levels, alcohol on its own will decrease the levels of glucose in your blood. Alcohol decreases blood sugar while the damage alcohol can have on your body is what will raise it.

A common way people tend to offset alcohol by lowering their blood sugar is to make sure they never drink on an empty stomach. By eating before or while drinking, the body absorbs alcohol slower. Because of this, most of the alcohol will be absorbed within the stomach. When drinking on an empty stomach the alcohol will quickly move through your body and into your small intestines where it goes into your direct bloodstream quickly as well. This aids in lowering your blood sugar and it will also lead to more problems such as liver disease which will dangerously raise your blood sugar.

What is the Recommended Alcohol Intake for Diabetics? 

The recommended amount of alcohol for diabetes is not zero. Those who do not drink and those who drink heavily are at a greater risk of cardiovascular issues. Those who drink in small or moderate amounts are actually at the least chance of having issues with their heart. 

On average, the recommended amount for someone with diabetes is between 1 and 2 standard drinks per day, although it can vary based on height and weight. A “standard drink” differs based on the type of alcohol but if it is a beer then it would be 12 ounces of a 5% alcohol beer. For wine, it’s about 5 ounces of a 12% alcohol drink. Liquor is about 2 or 3 ounces of a 24% alcohol drink. 

Could Only Sweet and Mixed-Drinks Cause Diabetes?

No, many alcoholic beverages worsen your chance of diabetes or can make your condition worse if you already have diabetes. Sweet mixed drinks like margaritas and pina coladas will contain high levels of sugar. This is dangerous for diabetics. However, there are many other types of alcohol that are dangerous as well. 

Regular beer is also dangerous. It has a high level of carbohydrates and affects how your pancreas uses the glucose in your body. Changing how the body uses glucose makes your body’s sugar levels unpredictable. Beer will either lower it to dangerous levels or raise it above what it should be. 

Another type of alcohol to avoid is what is commonly referred to as “Dessert Wine.” Dessert Wine is usually served after a meal, hence the name, and is typically a Vermouth or Port wine. These wines are known to be very dry and also very high in carbohydrates. This goes to show that while the very sugary flavored cocktails are bad for diabetes, beer and wine can be equally as bad in their own right.

Can a Diabetic Person Drink Alcohol?

Yes, if you have diabetes you can still drink alcohol. It is recommended that you never drink heavily and that when you do drink it is only in moderation. You should also only have a drink when you are eating. 

It’s also a good idea to monitor your blood sugar levels using a Blood Glucose Monitor when drinking alcohol. It pricks your finger and takes a small amount of blood to test in the device. Within minutes it tells you what your levels are and you will then know if you should have any alcohol or not.

What are the Treatments That are Available for an Alcoholic with Diabetes?

Alcohol rehabilitation centers are all over the country and they will help you cure your alcoholism. These centers also provide specific nutritional plans best suited for your diabetes on your road to recovery. 

In terms of diabetes treatment after you leave the rehabilitation center, the main way to treat diabetes is with insulin. If you have type-1 diabetes you will have insulin shots you will take up to 4 times per day. For type-2 diabetes, you actually will only need 1 shot of insulin per day. This is due to the dangerously low levels of blood sugar that come along with type-1 diabetes. 

If you are a kid you may not need any insulin shots but that depends on your condition and health care provider, that goes for type-1 and type-2 diabetes. For adults with type-2 diabetes exercise and a healthy diet are the first things to try for treatment. They will only give you insulin shots if they feel it is necessary. This is the main difference in treatment between the 2 types of diabetes.

What are the Negative Effects if You Take Both Diabetes and Alcoholism Treatments?

There are very few, if any, negative effects of going through both alcoholism recovery and diabetes treatments at the same time. 

We list the negative effects below.

Some of these conditions become life-threatening when you consume large quantities of alcohol.

Can You Take Both Diabetes and Alcoholism Treatments?

Yes, you can have diabetes and enter into any alcohol rehabilitation center. They will assign you a nutritionist who will go over daily diet plans as well as any medication necessary such as insulin. Due to needing to watch your diabetes and going through recovery, it is likely you may need to go through a longer program than others. They do offer both inpatient and outpatient programs whether you have diabetes or not.