Can I drink if I am diabetic?

Q: Can I drink if I am diabetic?

A: Alcohol is not considered a carbohydrate, protein, or fat, but like these nutrients, alcohol does contain calories (7 per gram, to be exact), and therefore, alcohol can have an impact on blood sugar just like food does.

Alcohol can lead to both high and low blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels can result from the alcohol decreasing the effectiveness of insulin, but can also be caused by the carbohydrates in alcoholic beverages, as well as the fact that drinking alcohol can increase your appetite and lower your inhibitions and ability to carefully monitor what you are eating. Effectiveness of insulin begins to decrease over time, so continued consumption over long periods of time will make you more susceptible to hyperglycemic episodes following alcohol consumption.

On the other hand, hypoglycemia can result from alcohol consumption each time you drink alcohol, because alcohol causes more insulin to be secreted. This is because when alcohol enters your system, your body’s immediate reaction is to focus on filtering it out. Because of this, the body is less responsive towards the pathway it normally uses to correct low blood sugar. Furthermore, since a lot of the symptoms of low blood sugar are similar to the symptoms of intoxication (nausea, flushing, slurred speech), these symptoms may be masked and more difficult for you and those around you to identify.

Alcohol should always be consumed in moderation, but this is especially true for diabetics, who should limit consumption to one drink a day for women, or two for men.

Some Quick Tips:

  • Don’t ever drink on an empty stomach. This will amplify the alcohol’s effect on your blood sugar.

  • Never use alcohol to replace a carbohydrate snack. Alcohol is metabolized similar to fat (and a drink should be counted as two fat exchanges, or 10 grams of fat).

  • Don’t choose alcohol as a solution to being very thirsty, as this makes it easier to drink too much or too fast. Instead, start with a nonalcoholic beverage if you are very thirsty.

  • Take small sips to make the drink last longer.