If you’re living with diabetes, you may have heard contradictory reports about drinking alcohol. “Does alcohol lower blood sugar?” and “are there any risks in drinking alcohol?” are two common questions from people living with diabetes.
The truth is, there is no overarching rule about drinking alcohol for people living with diabetes; whether you can drink alcohol, and if so, how much, varies from person to person. Your healthcare team will make personalized recommendations about drinking.
Learning about the potential benefits of moderate drinking as well as the risks and talking with your healthcare team can help you determine whether drinking is safe for you, given your diabetes.
Does Alcohol Lower Blood Sugar?
By now, I think we’ve all heard about the potential benefits of alcohol consumption. Research suggests that light to moderate drinking may reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, vascular disease, and other cardiovascular conditions. Of course, the amount you drink matters—heavy drinking has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. But what about diabetes? Does alcohol lower blood sugar?
The short answer is yes, sort of! While it doesn’t actively lower blood sugar, moderate alcohol intake has consistently been associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, as compared to abstinence or heavy drinking. It has also been associated with lower A1C readings, meaning it may also lower the risk for diabetes-related health complications.
Risks of Drinking Alcohol
Although research suggests that moderate consumption of alcohol may contribute to lower blood sugar and bring additional benefits to those living with diabetes, there are some risks to consider and talk with your healthcare team about.
For example, if you’re prescribed insulin, sulfonylureas, or other blood sugar–lowering medications, drinking alcohol might cause you to experience particularly low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) because of how the liver reacts to alcohol. When alcohol breaks down in your liver, substances that can block the liver from making new glucose (sugar) form, causing your blood sugar levels to drop.
If you’ve been living with diabetes for a long time, you likely know what hypoglycemia feels like. Drinking alcohol can cause similar feelings, such as dizziness, sleepiness, slurred speech, lightheadedness, and confusion. So it’s important to pay attention to your body and check your blood sugar levels if you’re concerned.
Staying Safe While Drinking Alcohol With Diabetes
If your healthcare team gives you the go-ahead to drink the occasional alcoholic beverage, there are a few things to keep in mind because alcohol consumption can affect your blood sugar levels for up to 24 hours. Your healthcare team will likely recommend that you check your blood sugar levels more often than you usually do the day you drink as well as the next day.
However, we all know that it can be difficult to check your blood sugar if you’re out at a restaurant or a work happy hour, for example. Carrying around your blood glucose monitor (BGM), test strips, lancets, and a lancing device everywhere you go, finding sharps disposals, and finding a private place to check can be challenging or uncomfortable for some people. If this is the case for you, you may consider trying an automatic blood glucose monitor (ABGM), such as the POGO Automatic®, which allows for automatic lancing and blood collection with the press of a button—no fumbling around with multiple components, no need to find a private place to check, and often no need to find a sharps container.
Here are a few other tips that can help you stay safe while drinking:
- Make sure to eat a snack or meal if you’re drinking.
- Check the size of your glass. A moderate amount of alcohol per day is defined as no more than one drink for women and no more than two drinks for men. Keep in mind that one “drink” is equivalent to 1½ ounces of liquor, 12 ounces of beer, or 5 ounces of wine.
- Give a heads-up to the people you’re out with. Let them know about the signs of hypoglycemia and what to be on the lookout for.
- Consider wearing or carrying a medical ID. The American Diabetes Association recommends that many people with diabetes, particularly those who use insulin, have a medical ID with them at all times.
- Opt for lower-calorie options such as light beer, dry red or white wine, or cocktails made with diet soda or lower-sugar mixers.
While moderate consumption of alcohol may contribute to lower blood sugar levels, it’s important for you to talk with your healthcare team to determine if it’s okay for you and consistent with your diabetes management plan. Your healthcare team can provide you with guidance regarding if, when, how, and what you can drink.
Jaclyn Owens is a product director specializing in diabetes management tools. She is committed to using technology to empower people with diabetes and help them take control of their health.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
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