How does alcohol affect diabetes?
When you have diabetes, you need to be careful with alcohol. If you take medicine 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. Some people confuse low blood sugar with drunkenness, so be sure to wear a medical alert tag and tell people you have diabetes.
Drinking alcohol over many years 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 medicine for diabetes.
If you do drink:
- Check for low blood sugar before you drink. Alcohol can cause low blood sugar for up to 24 hours after drinking, so keep checking your blood sugar. Eating can help, but in some people eating will cause high blood sugar. If you have had trouble keeping your blood sugar in a target range, don't 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.
- 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.
Current as of: December 20, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Colleen O'Connor PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian