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Can You Drink Alcohol if You Have Diabetes?

It all depends on your blood sugar control and general health, our expert says.
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics, including questions about what's true and not true in the field of medicine. For our July/August 2012 issue, we interviewed a researcher from the Joslin Diabetes Center about alcohol and diabetes.

Q: My husband has diabetes and says it's OK to drink alcohol. Is that true?

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A: While it's fine for some people with diabetes to drink some alcohol, your husband's blanket statement is FALSE. The more accurate answer would be "it depends."

In general, "adults who are in good health and have good blood sugar control can drink alcohol," says Elizabeth Bashoff, MD, a senior staff physician with Joslin Diabetes Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. "But it shouldn't be more than one drink per day for women and two per day for men."

Alcohol poses several problems for people with diabetes, Bashoff explains. First, after an initial spike in blood sugar, alcohol causes that level to drop. Because being tipsy causes the same symptoms as low blood sugar (sleepiness and disorientation), your husband may not know his levels are low. Second, if he drinks alcohol while taking glucose-lowering medications, his blood sugar levels can drop to dangerous levels. Third, heavy alcohol use can aggravate some diabetes complications, including nerve and kidney disease.

Encourage your husband to drink only at meals and only when his blood glucose is under control. Ask him to wear an ID explaining he has diabetes, in case people mistake his low blood sugar symptoms for drunkenness. Make sure he talks to his doctor about alcohol, so he can get personal advice.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD the Magazine." 

Reviewed on May 15, 2012

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