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Diabetes and alcohol

Alcohol - diabetes; Diabetes - alcohol use

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If you have diabetes, you may wonder if it's safe to drink alcohol. While many people with diabetes can drink alcohol in moderation, it's important to understand the possible risks of alcohol use and what you can do to lower them. Alcohol can interfere with how the body uses blood sugar (glucose). Alcohol can also interfere with certain diabetes medicines. You should also talk with your health care provider to see if it is safe for you to drink.

Diabetes and the Risks of Drinking Alcohol

For people with diabetes, drinking alcohol can cause low or high blood sugar, affect diabetes medicines, and cause other possible problems.

LOW BLOOD SUGAR

Your liver releases glucose into the blood stream as needed to help keep blood sugar at normal levels. When you drink alcohol, your liver needs to break down the alcohol. While your liver is processing alcohol, it stops releasing glucose. As a result, your blood sugar level can drop quickly, putting you at risk for low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). If you take insulin or certain types of diabetes medicine, it can cause seriously low blood sugar. Drinking without eating food at the same time also greatly increases this risk.

The risk for low blood sugar remains for hours after you take your last drink. The more drinks you have at one time, the higher your risk. This is why you should only drink alcohol with food and drink only in moderation.

ALCOHOL AND DIABETES MEDICINES

Some people who take oral diabetes medicines should talk with their provider to see if it is safe to drink alcohol. Alcohol can interfere with the effects of some diabetes medicines, putting you at risk for low blood sugar or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), depending on how much you drink and what medicine you take.

OTHER RISKS FOR PEOPLE WITH DIABETES

Drinking alcohol carries the same health risks for people with diabetes as it does in otherwise healthy people. But there are certain risks related to having diabetes that are important to know.

How Much Alcohol is Safe?

To drink alcohol safely, you should be sure of the following:

Anyone who chooses to drink should do so in moderation:

One drink is defined as:

Talk to your provider about how much alcohol is safe for you.

Things to Keep in Mind If You Choose to Drink

If you decide to drink alcohol, taking these steps can help keep you safe.

Because alcohol puts you at risk for low blood sugar even hours after you drink, you should check your blood glucose:

Make sure your blood glucose is at a safe level before you go to sleep.

When to Call the Doctor

Talk with your provider if you or someone you know with diabetes has an alcohol problem. Also let your provider know if your drinking habits change.

Call your provider if you feel symptoms of low blood sugar such as:

References

American Diabetes Association. 5. Facilitating Behavior Change and Well-being to Improve Health Outcomes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes-2021. Diabetes Care. 2021 Jan;44(Suppl 1):S53-S72. PMID: 33298416 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33298416/.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Diabetes. Diabetes and kidney disease: what to eat? www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/what-to-eat.html. Updated September 19, 2019. Accessed July 06, 2021.

Pearson ER, McCrimmon RJ. Diabetes mellitus. In: Ralston SH, Penman ID, Strachan MWJ, Hobson RP, eds. Davidson's Principles and Practice of Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 20.

Riddle MC, Ahmann AJ. Therapeutics of type 2 diabetes mellitus. In: Melmed S, Auchus, RJ, Goldfine AB, Koenig RJ, Rosen CJ, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 35.

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Review Date: 5/13/2021  

Reviewed By: Brent Wisse, MD, Board Certified in Metabolism/Endocrinology, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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