Can You Drink Alcohol if You Have Diabetes?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 14, 2014
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Q: My husband has diabetes and says it's OK to drink alcohol. Is that true?

A: Alcohol poses several problems for people with diabetes.

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.

-- Elizabeth Bashoff, MD, staff physician with Joslin Diabetes Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

Being tipsy causes the same symptoms as low blood sugar: sleepiness and disorientation.

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Elizabeth Bashoff, MD, Harvard Medical School instructor; staff physician, Joslin Diabetes Center, Cambridge, MA.

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