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Living with Diabetes: Facts about Drinking Alcohol

by Susan Burke March - October 15, 2013 - with 0 Comments


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Living with Diabetes: Facts about Drinking Alcohol

Living with diabetes is one thing…but living successfully with diabetes is the goal!

Success means balancing food and activity. The end goal is to achieve weight loss and to stabilize blood sugars by eating well and staying active.

For those with type 2 diabetes, weight management is especially important. Being overweight is an independent risk factor for the disease – one that compounds any genetic link.

So, can people with diabetes drink alcohol safely?  That depends.

 The American Diabetes Association recommends you answer three important questions before you pick up a drink:

  1. Are you controlling your diabetes consistently?
  2. Do you have any conditions such as diabetic neuropathy or high blood pressure that are complicated by poor glucose control?
  3. Do you know how alcohol affects you?

Drinking alcohol can increase your risk for hypoglycemia, which is also known as low blood sugar.  Certain oral medications for type 2 diabetes work to lower blood glucose by stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin.

At the same time, alcohol makes your liver work overtime to metabolize the alcohol. So, hypoglycemia can result because the liver is working to clear the alcohol out of your system instead of working to get the glucose from carbohydrate into your bloodstream. 

People sometimes appear to be drunk when suffering from low blood sugar. Slurred speech, dizziness, sleepiness and disorientation may be mistaken for intoxication, but could be symptomatic of hypoglycemia, which could be a life-threatening condition. Because of this risk, it’s a good idea to always wear a diabetes medical identification.

Insulin, exercise and alcohol all lower blood sugar. That’s why self-monitoring is so important. Stay on track by journaling your blood sugar readings and create a record that you can refer back to and share with your healthcare provider.

The American Diabetes Association defines moderate drinking as no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. One alcoholic drink is equivalent to a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, such as vodka, whiskey or gin.

The ADA serves up these tips for drinking safely with diabetes:

  • Determine with your healthcare team whether alcohol is safe for you.
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount and always enjoy your drinks with meals or snacks.
  • If you drink alcohol at least several times a week, make sure your doctor knows this before he/she prescribes diabetes medication.
  • Drink only when blood glucose is under control.
  • Do not swap out food for drinks.
  • Test blood glucose to help decide if you can safely drink.
  • Wear an I.D. bracelet or necklace that notes you have diabetes.
  • Sip your drinks slowly and limit their number.
  • Drink water before you imbibe.
  • Use calorie-free drink mixers, such as diet soda, club soda, diet tonic water or water.
  • Find a registered dietitian to help you fit alcohol into your food plan.
  • Do not drive or plan to drive for several hours after you drink alcohol.

If weight loss is your goal, you’ll find it tougher going if you choose to add alcohol to your daily menu. The best advice is to not sacrifice good nutrition for alcohol – and to monitor your blood sugars frequently.

Alcohol packs 7 calories per gram, and is quickly metabolized and stored as fat. Best intentions are often forgotten when drinking alcohol—and for people with diabetes, there are complications that are more easily avoided by avoiding alcohol.

You want your willower up front and center when you’re trying to make positive changes for health and weight loss. So, ask yourself this: is a drink really worth it?


American Diabetes Association: Alcohol. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/alcohol.html

Susan Burke March is Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, who as eDiet's Chief Nutritionist  promotes the dietary health and well being of consumers worldwide.

eDiets Free Diet Profile

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