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Alcohol and Diabetes: What You Should Know

By Gulnaz Khan
Reviewed by Nicole Arzt, LMFT on December 12, 2020
Here’s what to know about the effects of alcohol on diabetes, whether it’s safe to drink, and whether alcoholism can cause diabetes.

Around 34 million adults in the U.S. have diabetes, according to the CDC. This long-term disease affects your blood sugar and can cause serious health problems if you don’t get it treated. 

Because alcohol can  make your blood sugar rise or fall sharply, you should only drink if your doctor says it’s safe for you to do so.

Who Can Drink Safely?

The American Diabetes Association recommends asking yourself three questions before you have a drink: 

  • Is my diabetes under control?
  • Have I talked to my doctor about drinking, and do they agree that I can have alcohol? 
  • Do I know how alcohol affects my blood sugar? 

If the answer to all three questions is yes, the ADA recommends no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and no more than two drinks for men. 

To manage your blood sugar: 

  • Avoid sugary and high-calorie cocktails. 
  • Have a meal or snacks with carbohydrates before you drink to prevent low blood sugar. 
  • Check your sugar more often than usual when you drink, and on the day after.

And in case of a health emergency, carry identification that says you have diabetes. 

Who Shouldn’t Drink Alcohol at All?

The ADA says you should avoid alcohol completely if you have diabetes and you are also:

  • Pregnant
  • Struggling with a drinking problem
  • Diagnosed with a diabetes complication, like uncontrolled blood pressure, or nerve, eye, or kidney damage
  • Taking medications with labels that say to avoid alcohol.

Again, ask your doctor what’s safe for you. If they tell you not to drink, follow their advice.

Can Drinking Too Much Cause Diabetes?

Excessive alcohol use can make you more likely to get type 2 diabetes, Mayo Clinic says. 

Insulin, a hormone that plays a key role in controlling your blood sugar levels, is made in the pancreas. Heavy alcohol use can cause pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. This interferes with your body’s ability to make insulin, and it can contribute to type 2 diabetes.

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one is struggling with drinking, one of the hardest parts can be knowing where to get help, says Margie Skeer, associate professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. 

“It can be scary because you’re worried for your loved one, but you also don’t want to do something that makes them not want to engage with you, so it feels like an extremely delicate balance,” Skeer says. 

If you need advice on how to get yourself or a loved one started on the road to recovery, our WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

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