Diabetes and Alcohol

Topic Overview

How does alcohol affect diabetes?

When you have diabetes, you need to be careful with alcohol. If you take insulin or pills for diabetes, drinking alcohol may cause low blood sugar.

Too much alcohol can also affect your ability to know when your blood sugar is low and to treat it. Drinking alcohol can make you feel lightheaded at first and drowsy as you drink more, both of which may be similar to the symptoms of low blood sugar.

Drinking alcohol over a long period of time can cause damage to your liver, called cirrhosis. If this happens, your body may lose its natural response to protect itself from low blood sugar.

If you are controlling your diabetes and don't have other health problems, it may be okay to have a drink once in a while. Learning how alcohol affects your body can help you make the right choices.

How much alcohol can you drink safely?

Work with your doctor or other diabetes expert to find what is best for you. Make sure you know whether it is safe to drink if you are taking insulin or pills.

If you do drink:

  • Limit alcohol to 1 drink a day with a meal if you are a woman. If you are a man, limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day with a meal. A standard drink is:
    • A 12 fl oz (355 mL) bottle of beer or wine cooler.
    • A 5 fl oz (148 mL) glass of wine.
    • A mixed drink with 1.5 fl oz (44 mL) of 80-proof hard liquor, such as gin, whiskey, or rum.
  • Choose alcoholic drinks wisely. With hard alcohol, use sugar-free mixers, such as water, diet tonic, or club soda. Pick drinks that have less alcohol, including light beer or dry wine. Or add club soda to wine to dilute it. Also remember that most alcoholic drinks have a lot of calories.
  • Check your blood sugar before you go to bed. Have a snack before bed so your blood sugar does not drop while you sleep.

Also remember:

  • Don't drink after exercise. The exercise itself lowers blood sugar.
  • Never drink on an empty stomach. If you do drink alcohol, drink it only with a meal or snack. Having as little as 2 drinks on an empty stomach could lead to low blood sugar.
  • Don't drink at all if:
    • You have problems recognizing the signs of low blood sugar until they become severe.
    • You have nerve damage. Drinking can make it worse and increase the pain, numbness, and other symptoms.

Credits

Author Deborah Dakins
Editor Patrick Kilby
Associate Editor Michele Cronen
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Last Updated February 5, 2010

Last Updated: February 5, 2010

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