Type 2 Diabetes And Alcohol Use: Is Any Amount Of Alcohol Safe For Diabetic Patients?

by Cindy

Type 2 Diabetes and Alcohol Use

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic health condition that requires patients to make radical changes in their eating and exercise habits to try to get blood sugar levels under good control.  Many patients who have type 2 diabetes may enjoy having the occassional drink or two of alcohol but are unsure if it is safe to do so.  Current recommendations do not prohibit type 2 diabetic patients from drinking alcohol unless instructed otherwise by their doctors. 

Recommendations for Alcohol Consumption in Diabetics

If your doctor believes that it is safe for you to consume alcohol, then there is no reason why the diabetic patient cannot have these beverages in moderation. Current recommendations suggest that men limit alcohol intake to two beverages of less per day and that women limited their consumption to one or less servings per day. A serving of alcohol is:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1 ½ ounces of liquor

Which Diabetic Patients Should Not Consume Alcohol?

It is recommended that all patients with type 2 diabetes always ask their doctor if it is safe to drink any alcohol. Generally patients with the following health conditions are advised to avoid consumption of alcoholic beverages:

  • Pregnant women
  • Women who are breastfeeding
  • Patients with a history of pancreatitis
  • Patients with liver disease
  • Patients with advanced diabetic complications such as diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), diabetic kidney disease and diabetic retinopathy (eye disease)
  • Patients with a history of alcoholism
  • Patients with high triglyceride levels
  • Patients with uncontrolled blood pressure
  • Patients taking Metformin

The Effects of Alcohol on Type 2 Diabetes

  • Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can occur in diabetic patients who drink too much alcohol.  This happens because alcohol stops the release of stored sugars and increases the effectiveness of insulin.  Superficially this may sound like a good thing except it can result in blood sugars dipping to dangerously low levels in diabetic patients.  In addition, patients who are inhibited by alcohol may not recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia and are at higher risk for severe complications from low blood sugar levels. 
  • Weight Gain:  Alcohol is high in calories and low in nutritional value.  These calories need to be counted in a diabetic diet plan but because they do not add any nutritional value other foods should not be substituted for alcoholic beverages.  Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain.
  • Interactions with Diabetic Medications:  Patients who take medications or insulin to help control blood sugar at an increased risk for low blood sugar from drinking alcohol.  Patients who choose to drink should also eat healthy diabetic snacks when they partake to avoid dangerous drops in their blood glucose readings.
  • Hyperglycemia:  Excessive alcohol intake can also lead to extremely high blood glucose levels which can be very dangerous in diabetic patients.

Type 2 Diabetes and Alcoholism

For diabetic patients who consume too much alcohol, the risks of severe complications are very high.  Patients who abuse alcohol are less able to track sugar levels with their glucometer on a daily basis. They may not adhere to the diabetic diet or take prescription medications regularly.  This can result in poor sugar control and an accelerated progression of diabetic complications.  In addition, patients who abuse alcohol raise their risk of suffering serious extremes in blood sugar levels from dangerously high to dangerously low. Patients who habitually consume alcohol in large amounts should seek help from their physician or from local support groups, such as Alcoholic Anonymous.

Creative Commons License photo credit: DeusXFlorida

In general, most diabetic patients are not required to completely avoid alcoholic beverages as long as they are able to consume them in moderation.  It is important that patients with diabetes remember that their body may respond very differently to alcohol due to problems with blood sugar regulation and because the side effects of certain medications. If you have type 2 diabetes, be sure to ask your doctor if it is safe for you to consume alcohol. This is of particular importance if you have other chronic health conditions or if you are on medications to help control your diabetes.

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