Raise a Glass—Wisely!

Looking to ring in the new year with a glass of bubbly? Here’s what you need to know about alcohol and diabetes.

Health Monitor Staff
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Looking forward to a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer while out with friends? With the right precautions, it’s probably okay. But here’s what you’ll need to keep in mind before pouring yourself a drink with diabetes.

How does alcohol affect me?
Alcohol is metabolized by the liver, the same organ that releases glucose into the bloodstream. When you drink, your liver has to clear alcohol from your system, instead of doing its main job of regulating your blood sugar. This puts you at risk for developing hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood sugar.

Practice safe drinking by…

  • Eating beforehand. Never drink on an empty stomach. Having a bite to eat first—or at the very least, having a meal with your drink—helps slow the rapid blood sugar-lowering effect.
  • Monitoring your blood sugar levels… before, during and after you drink alcohol. Remember to test before you go to sleep. If your blood sugar is low, eat a snack to raise it.
  • Sipping your drink slowly, to make it last. “Spread alcoholic drinks out over time,” says Amy Hess-Fischl, CDE, diabetes educator at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “Also, alternate drinking nonalcoholic drinks or water.”
  • Being prepared. Always have on hand a fast-acting glucose source, such as glucose tablets. Important: Glucagon shots won’t work as well when you’ve been drinking.
  • Not exercising before—or during—drinking. Physical activity lowers blood sugar levels, and drinking reduces them further. Keep in mind: Dancing counts as exercise, so consider skipping the drinks if you’re hitting the dance floor.
  • Never binge drinking. The American Diabetes Association recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and for women, no more than one drink per day (the same guidelines for people who don’t have diabetes).
  • Having a go-to drink. Choose drinks that have less sugar—ones with small amounts of liquor mixed with club soda or diet soda, light beers, dry wines or wine spritzers (wine mixed with club soda). Examples: vodka or gin and diet tonic or rum and diet cola.
  • Wearing a diabetes medical I.D. Being inebriated and having low blood sugar can look similar: sleepiness, dizziness, disorientation. Wearing a bracelet will alert others to the fact that you have diabetes, should you need help.
  • Having a trusted drinking buddy. Make sure at least one reliable friend is aware that you have diabetes and knows what to do in case of a hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) attack. 

Shun alcohol if you have…

  • Neuropathy, nerve damage in arms and legs
  • Retinopathy, eye disease caused by diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglyceride levels

Because alcohol can worsen these conditions. Ask your doctor whether you should drink. Being honest will allow her to provide the best recommendations.

January 2013