Diabetes and Alcohol: What You Need to Know

Diabetes Diet, Diabetes Lifestyle, Diet

Diabetes Drinking Alcohol
If you have diabetes, you may wonder if alcohol is off-limits. According to the American Diabetes Association, most people with diabetes can drink in moderation. “Moderation” is defined as having no more than one drink per day for a woman, and no more than two if you’re a man.

One drink is the equivalent of a 12-ounce beer, five-ounce glass of wine or 1.5-ounce vodka, whiskey, gin, etc.

However, first talk with your doctor so you make sure you understand the effect alcohol will have on your diabetes and any medication you may take. It’s important to discuss and understand the answers to the following questions before you drink:

Is your blood sugar under control?

Since alcohol can cause your blood sugar to rise too high or fall too low, it’s important that it be well-controlled before you choose to drink.

How does alcohol affect the medication you take?

If you take insulin or oral medications to help regulate glucose levels, drinking alcohol can cause your blood sugar to become dangerously low1. Your liver normally regulates your blood sugar by releasing glucose into your bloodstream. However, when you drink alcohol, your liver has to work to remove the alcohol from your blood instead.

Do you have any other health problems?

Alcohol can make health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetic eye disease or diabetic nerve damage worse.

If you do choose to drink alcohol, the following tips can help you do so responsibly:

  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Food helps slow the absorption of alcohol into your blood.
  • Eating a meal with carbohydrates or a snack like crackers is a good choice to help make sure your blood sugar doesn’t get too low.
  • Sip your drink slowly over time.
  • Carry a source of sugar, like peppermints or glucose tablets, so you can take them if your blood sugar level falls too low.
  • Don’t drink when your blood sugar is low. Check your blood glucose before and while you drink. Continue to monitor it closely the following day, as alcohol can cause low blood sugar for up to 24 hours. Also check your blood sugar before you go to bed to make sure it’s between 100 and 140 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). If it’s low, eat something to help raise it.
  • Wear a medical I.D. bracelet that identifies you as having diabetes. Otherwise, if you have symptoms of low blood sugar, people may think that you’ve just had too much to drink and you may not get the assistance you need. The symptoms of intoxication and low blood sugar – including slurred speech, sleepiness and disorientation – can be similar.
  • Make sure your companions know you’re a diabetic and understand the symptoms of low blood sugar. Tell them what symptoms to look out for and what help you may need.
  • Make sure your drink isn’t stronger than you suspect. Light beers or wine spritzers are good choices. Heavy craft beers, on the other hand, can have double the alcohol and calories of light beer.
  • If you’re having a mixed drink, mix it with a calorie-free choice like diet soda, club soda or water.
  • Avoid sweet wine, wine coolers, and dessert wines.
  • Don’t drive for several hours after drinking.

As always, talk with your doctor and/or other health care providers to make sure alcohol is safe for you to drink. Be honest about how much and how often you drink because this can affect your medication, blood sugar levels, weight management and overall health.

Want to know more? Find helpful information and tips by visiting our “Lifestyle” section.


1Mandy Seay. Livestrong.com. http://www.livestrong.com/article/257559-what-are-the-dangers-of-diabetes-alcohol/. Accessed January 26, 2015.