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Can People With Diabetes Drink Alcohol?

Posted on October 24, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Manuel Penton, M.D.
Article written by
Sarah Winfrey

Some people stop drinking alcohol after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. They decide that the medical risks they run by choosing to drink outweigh any pleasure they get from drinking. Others find that drinking drastically worsens their diabetes symptoms, so they choose to avoid alcohol. However, some people find drinking a good way to relax and connect with others. They may want to learn how to drink responsibly while also managing their diabetes.

The choices you make about drinking with type 2 diabetes are yours and yours alone. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions, which may help you make an informed decision.

The Possible Side Effects of Drinking Alcohol With Diabetes

There are several reasons why alcohol may pose risks to people with type 2 diabetes. The effects of alcohol can be unpredictable, and some individuals will experience them differently than others.

Lowered Blood Sugar

Under some circumstances, drinking alcohol can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This is a greater concern for people with type 1 diabetes, but those with type 2 diabetes should also consider the risk of low blood sugar.

The liver is responsible for making glucose when blood sugar is low, and it also processes alcohol. When a person drinks, the liver prioritizes eliminating the alcohol from the body. As a result, it may not produce enough glucose to keep your blood sugar at healthy levels.

Some of our members have experienced low blood sugar due to alcohol. “Any alcohol sends my blood sugar up,” one wrote, “and the day after, I get dizzy spells.” Another warned a friend who was planning to attend a party: “Alcohol will raise your blood sugar. Take a small drink and sip it slowly so it lasts the night.”

Additionally, the symptoms of low blood sugar are similar to the symptoms of intoxication. Both include slurring words, trouble with balance or walking, fatigue, and confusion. Unless you know you need to check your blood sugar levels, both you and those around you might assume you’re drunk, rather than experiencing hypoglycemia. This situation is complicated by the fact that your blood glucose levels can drop hours after you stop drinking.

Problems Tracking Carbohydrates

Serving sizes vary for different types of alcohol. What’s more, bartenders or servers may mix or serve drinks in different proportions. As a result, it can be difficult to keep track of your carbohydrates when you’re drinking. If you’re counting your carbs to know how much medicine or insulin to take, drinking can complicate your calculations.

Intensified Comorbidities

Several medical conditions related to diabetes (known as comorbidities, two or more diseases or medical conditions in a person) can worsen with alcohol consumption. These include:

  • Nerve damage (neuropathy)
  • Eye diseases (diabetic retinopathy)
  • Problems metabolizing fat

If you’re already living with any of these conditions, alcohol may make them worse. If you aren’t, drinking can put you at an increased risk of developing them.

Higher Blood Pressure

People with diabetes are twice as likely to have hypertension (high blood pressure) as those without. Drinking, especially heavy drinking, can lead to high blood pressure. Experts recommend that individuals with high blood pressure moderate their drinking to help prevent raising blood pressure further.

Problems With Diabetes Medications

Some diabetes medicines may have negative interactions with alcohol. For example, if you’re taking metformin, a drug commonly used for type 2 diabetes, you might experience weakness, fatigue, a slowed heart rate, dark urine, and more. These are all symptoms of a dangerous condition called lactic acidosis.

One member of DiabetesTeam who experienced an interaction with their diabetes medication and alcohol warned others about the experience, writing, “I’ve been on Ozempic for about a year. In my experience, it reacts poorly with alcohol.”

How To Drink Safely With Type 2 Diabetes

If you choose to drink alcohol, you can take some steps to minimize the risk of potentially serious problems with type 2 diabetes. Your doctor is your best resource for helping you create a plan to drink as safely as possible.

Talk To Your Doctor

Seek medical advice if you’re considering drinking alcohol with diabetes. Your doctor can make recommendations based on your medical history and current health, and they can advise you about potential interactions with your medicines.

Manage Your Diabetes Effectively

Drinking alcohol may be safer if your diabetes is well-managed. If your diabetes isn’t under control, your doctor may advise against drinking, as it may worsen your diabetes or other health conditions.

Drink in Moderation

When deciding whether to drink with diabetes, you’ll need to determine whether you’ll be able to monitor your alcohol consumption and drink in moderation. That means no more than two drinks per day for men and one per day for women. One standard drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits.

Avoid Drinks That Are High in Sugar

If you have diabetes, it’s best to avoid drinks that are high in sugar. Sugary drinks can cause hyperglycemia (spikes of high blood sugar). Avoid sugary mixed drinks, as well as sweet wines or dessert wines. Instead, consider having cocktails mixed with diet beverages, seltzer, or club soda. Look for light beer and stick to dry wine. If low-sugar drinks aren’t available, it may be best to avoid drinking entirely.

Some DiabetesTeam members use this technique to make sure they don’t ingest too much sugar. One explained, “If I drink alcohol, I make sure all my mixers are sugar-free so it doesn’t send my readings up too much.”

Always Monitor Your Blood Sugar Levels

Plan to monitor your blood sugar more often when you’re drinking than you would normally. By checking your glucose level regularly, you’ll know to stop if it drops too low.

If you have a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or an insulin pump, make sure it’s working properly and has sufficiently charged batteries. If you don’t have a CGM, you’ll need to test your glucose manually when you’ll be drinking.

Test your blood sugar before going to bed after drinking. Eat a small snack, such as half a sandwich or an apple with peanut butter, if your blood sugar is low.

Plan Ahead for Low Blood Sugar

Have a plan for what you’ll do if your blood sugar drops. Ideally, you’ll have a friend or a loved one with you who’ll be able to help you. If you get a low reading, stop drinking immediately and eat something. Having an empty stomach can cause drops in blood glucose. Drinking water may also help.

Before drinking alcohol, be sure to explain the signs of low blood sugar to those with you. That will prepare them to identify hypoglycemia in case it occurs, even if you can’t.

When To Stop Drinking Alcohol With Type 2 Diabetes

Sometimes, people with type 2 diabetes shouldn’t consume alcoholic drinks, including when experiencing certain signs or symptoms and when taking certain medicines. Ask your doctor if you’re unsure whether it’s safe for you to drink.

When You’re Experiencing Particular Diabetes Symptoms

Certain signs and symptoms indicate that diabetes isn’t well-managed. In these cases, it’s best to avoid alcohol and work with your doctor to get your diabetes under control.

The following signs and symptoms may indicate that your diabetes isn’t under control:

  • Tingling or burning in the hands and feet
  • Blood pressure spikes
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney problems

When You’re Taking Particular Diabetes Medications

Your doctor may advise that you avoid drinking if you take diabetes medications that may interact negatively with alcohol, such as metformin.

Taking these medicines doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t drink at all. However, talk to your doctor before doing so and take care to moderate your alcohol consumption.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you have questions about your drinking or you feel like you should be drinking less because of your diabetes but you can’t stop, talk to your doctor. They can help you change any potentially harmful drinking patterns and answer questions about drinking as safely as possible. After all, getting medical advice is always a good idea whenever you have questions concerning diabetes.

Find Your Team

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, join DiabetesTeam today. Here, more than 124,000 members from around the world come together to share their journeys with diabetes, ask and answer questions, and join ongoing conversations posted by other members. Over time, you’ll form a team of others who will be there to support you, no matter what.

Are you trying to decide if you want to continue drinking alcohol after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes? Are you looking for information about how drinking and diabetes interact in the real world? Share your story or thoughts in the comments below or by posting on DiabetesTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Manuel Penton, M.D. is a medical editor at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about him here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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