Diabetes and Alcohol: Caution When Mixing

 If you have diabetes, you may know what foods to eat and which to avoid. But what about alcohol? Can you have a glass of wine with dinner or a few drinks after work with friends? And what are the effects of alcohol on your body if you have diabetes?

How Does Alcohol Affect Blood Sugar?

First, let's look at your liver. Your liver makes and stores glucose (sugar). This glucose will be released when your body needs to raise your blood sugar levels. The liver also metabolizes, or breaks down, alcohol. When your liver breaks down alcohol, its glucose production is impaired.Now let's look at medications you may be taking. Insulin and other diabetes medications, like sulfonylureas (glipizide, glyburide) and metformin, decrease your blood sugar levels. Regular meals and a medication plan will help you keep your blood glucose at healthy levels. However, habits like skipping meals can cause low blood sugar levels. Combining already low blood sugar levels with alcohol-impaired liver function will put you at risk for dangerously low blood sugar levels, known as hypoglycemia . Hypoglycemia can occur shortly after drinking. The effect can continue for up to 24 hours afterwards. The symptoms of hypoglycemia and being drunk are similar—confusion, anxiety, and feeling faint. Be careful not to mistake hypoglycemia for drunkenness. Doing so may mean that you do not get the proper help if your blood sugar levels drop too low. Wearing a medical emergency bracelet can be very helpful to alert the people around you that you have diabetes.

So Can I Drink Alcohol?

Talk with your doctor to make sure alcohol is safe for you. If it is and you decide to drink, do so responsibly. Since alcohol can cause hypoglycemia, it is important not to drink on an empty stomach. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can lower your blood sugar to very low levels. Eating food, especially foods containing carbohydrates, with alcohol can keep your blood sugar levels from dropping too low.If you have a glucose meter, be sure to check your blood sugar level before you drink. If your blood sugar is very low (below 70 mg/dl [milligrams per deciliter]), eat something to raise it before drinking alcohol. Also, if you drink before bedtime, check your blood sugar before you go to bed to make sure it is at a safe level (between 100-140 mg/dl).

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