Alcohol and Diabetes: Diabetes Awareness | Wellness Retreat

Alcohol and Diabetes

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and as such, the perfect time to look at the dangers of alcohol consumption while diabetic, how regular drinking can increase the risk of developing diabetes, and more.

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Diabetes and Alcohol

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and as such, the perfect time to look at the dangers of alcohol consumption while diabetic, how regular drinking can increase the risk of developing diabetes, and more.

Table of Contents

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to several health problems: increased risk of stroke, dangerous interactions with medications, increased weight gain, and more. What many people may not realize, however, is how alcohol consumption can impact the likelihood of developing diabetes or how difficult alcohol can make it to manage the symptoms of type 2 diabetes consistently. 


Diabetes is a serious, chronic health condition that can substantially impact the patient’s life, including that patient’s interactions with alcohol.  Learn more about what diabetes is, how heavy drinking can influence diabetes symptoms, and how people with diabetes can engage in more responsible drinking behaviors.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a group of conditions leading to high blood sugar levels. Diabetes is generally divided into categories based on when and how the condition occurs.


For people with prediabetes, a condition that impacts as many as 10.8% of American adults, blood sugar levels are high, based on fasting glucose or A1C levels, but not yet high enough to be considered diabetes. With intervention, including dietary changes, people with prediabetes may not go on to develop diabetes. However, prediabetes can develop into diabetes. 

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that develops when the pancreas produces little to no insulin. Due to this lack of insulin production, the body cannot process sugar independently. Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction and cannot be impacted by diet or exercise. Failure to properly manage type 1 diabetes symptoms can lead to serious illness or death.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot use insulin effectively, so that blood sugar levels may rise quickly. Type 2 diabetes generally develops over the years as the body becomes more and more insulin resistant and has an increasingly more challenging time processing sugar effectively. Type 2 diabetes can be influenced by diet, weight, and exercise. Catching symptoms early may mean that a patient can more effectively manage those symptoms through diet and exercise.

Can Alcohol Put You at Risk for Diabetes?

Drinking heavily regularly can put you at a higher risk of developing diabetes. Normal drinking generally does not substantially increase the risk of developing diabetes or worsening diabetes. Moderate drinking can have benefits to overall cardiovascular health. However, drinking can put many people at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. 

Alcohol and Diabetes - Alcohol and Diabetes

Alcohol Can Increase Weight Gain

People who drink heavily often do not stop thinking about the sheer amount of calories consumed. The number of calories consumed may depend on what the individual is drinking. 


For example, one can of craft beer can come in at as much as 350 calories, depending on the type of beer. Regular beer generally has just 153 calories per serving. Mixed drinks can also be higher in calories than anticipated. A white Russian, for example, may have an average of 568 calories in a single eight-oz serving, and a piña colada may have an estimated 526 calories per serving. 


Those calories can add up fast, especially for people who drink regularly. Excess calorie intake can lead to increased weight gain, which may, in turn, increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 


People with a high amount of fat around the liver, or fatty liver disease, may have a greater overall risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with excess body fat. Since heavy alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing fatty liver disease, patients at risk for developing type 2 diabetes may find it beneficial to avoid excess alcohol consumption, particularly while trying to manage overall weight gain. 

Alcohol and Diabetes - Alcohol and Diabetes

Drinking May Decrease Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin sensitivity is an essential part of whether a person will develop type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes relies heavily on the body’s ability to process insulin effectively. When the body stops processing insulin the way it should, the individual may suffer from blood sugar highs and lows, more significant overall weight gain, and a host of other problems. 


While light alcohol consumption may help improve insulin resistance, high alcohol intake generally leads to increased insulin resistance, perhaps due, in part, to high levels of abdominal fat and obesity among people who drink heavily regularly. Light to moderate drinking can help limit the impact of changes in insulin resistance caused by drinking. 

Alcohol and Diabetes - Alcohol and Diabetes

Increased the Risk of Chronic Pancreatitis

Diabetes is a known side effect of chronic pancreatitis, which can be caused by heavy drinking. Acute pancreatitis, or inflammation in the pancreas, can frequently occur in heavy drinkers. Over time, this may develop into a chronic, irreversible condition. The inflammation in the pancreas may cause it to fail to function correctly, increasing the risk of developing diabetes. 

Alcohol and Diabetes - Alcohol and Diabetes

Drinkers May Have Poor Impulse Control

Many people with prediabetes, especially those diagnosed by and under the care of a physician, may start to make changes to their routine geared toward improving overall health. They may, for example, begin to watch their diets, count calories, and exercise more frequently. 


Unfortunately, under the influence of alcohol, many people will fail to keep up with those general healthy living choices. They may, for example, throw caution to the wind and decide to eat sugar-laden desserts or consume many calories. 


They may skip workouts–including choosing to cut them the next day when they wake up hungover and experiencing the consequences of their actions the night before. Unfortunately, that can lead to further spiraling problems that can increase the risk of developing diabetes. 

The Risks of Alcohol Use for Diabetics

Another possibility that could be why mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders happen simultaneously is the presence of past trauma or stress in your life. When someone experiences forms of trauma in their life, they either decide to address it head-on and heal from it or run from it.


When they decide to run from it, they might begin to self-medicate as a way of not having to deal with their emotions. The thing about self-medicating is it doesn’t help or remedy the situation you’re facing.


Another theory about why mental health issues and substance abuse takes place is because of genetics. Some studies have been done that show if a person’s family has a history of substance abuse, it increases the chances that someone may have addiction in their lives.

Alcohol Intake without Food Can Cause Low Blood Sugar

Depending on the type of drink consumed and the amount of sugar in it, alcohol consumption may lead to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. Despite the high level of sugar found in many alcoholic beverages, the interaction of alcohol and many medications commonly used to treat diabetes can lead to unexpected blood sugar lows. Blood sugar lows can prove more dangerous for many people with diabetes than highs since they can lead to coma or even death. 

Similar Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar & Intoxication

Alcohol consumption and dangerous blood sugar lows can cause several of the same symptoms. Both may cause:

People may even notice a sharp smell, similar to alcohol, on the breath of a diabetic suffering from low blood sugar. Unfortunately, those symptoms may mimic the symptoms of drunkenness. While someone who has consumed too much alcohol may sleep off the effects, someone suffering from low blood sugar may need immediate medical attention. Failure to get that care may prove fatal. 


People around the diabetic, however, might note the drinking behavior as the reason for those symptoms rather than recognizing the low blood sugar. People with diabetes may brush off those symptoms, especially if they do not realize the potential interaction between alcohol and blood sugar levels.

Failure to Take Needed Medications

Even a single drink can interfere with cognitive processing abilities in many people. Unfortunately, for a person with diabetes, that may mean that drinking interferes with the ability to take medication correctly. Some people with diabetes may forget that they need to take those medications after a night out, while others can fail to calculate those dosages correctly. As a result, they may suffer significant high or low blood sugar. 


People who drink heavily regularly may also find it more difficult to manage overall diabetes symptoms and medications. Missing a single dose of a needed medication can prove dangerous enough. 


Failure to manage blood sugar long-term can lead to even more damaging health consequences, including increased symptoms. People who drink excessively, however, may not realize that they have allowed those symptoms to swing out of control. Heavy alcohol consumption can also increase brain fog, impeding the ability to think clearly. 

Weight Gain Over Time

People with diabetes who drink regularly may notice another alarming problem: increased weight gain over time. Many alcoholic beverages are, as a general rule, high-calorie. A number of them contain excess sugars. Unfortunately, that can lead to substantial weight gain over time. 


Weight gain, especially fat around the liver and increased body fat, can lead to increased insulin resistance, further increasing diabetes symptoms. For some drinkers, that can mean developing type 2 diabetes. For others, it may mean that type 2 diabetes swings even further out of control, leading to worsening symptoms and additional challenges.

Uncontrolled Blood Sugar

Alcohol use, in general, can make it much more difficult to control blood sugar. Many alcoholics may suffer from fluctuating blood sugar levels, which can make it more difficult for them to manage ongoing symptoms of diabetes. 

How to Drink Responsibly as a Diabetic

Having diabetes does not automatically mean that the patient cannot drink at all. However, it does mean that the patient may need to pay considerably more attention to the need to drink responsibly. It is essential to drink responsibly and understand the effects of alcohol on people with diabetes. 

Alcohol and Diabetes - Alcohol and Diabetes

Consuming Alcohol in Moderation

People with diabetes may need to be much more careful about consuming alcohol in moderation. That may mean having just one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks for men. 


For people with diabetes, it also means having a solid understanding of serving sizes. One beer is a single serving size, as is a five-ounce serving of wine. People with diabetes may need to carefully measure a serving of their preferred alcohol when drinking to ensure safe consumption. More than three drinks per day can lead to higher overall blood sugar and A1C levels, which may harm the health of a person with diabetes. 

Alcohol and Diabetes - Alcohol and Diabetes

Eating Before Drinking

If the liver has to process a heavy amount of alcohol without any food in the diabetic’s system, it can cause considerable difficulty. The liver may prioritize processing that alcohol over maintaining blood glucose levels. Before consuming any type of alcohol, people with diabetes may want to ensure they have eaten a good meal. Drinking before eating can have devastating consequences. 

Alcohol and Diabetes - Alcohol and Diabetes

Tracking Calories and Carbs

Many assume that alcoholic drinks are a high-carb option, which might seem reasonable or perfect for treating low blood sugar. However, alcoholic drinks may be lower in carbs than you think. A serving of red wine may have just 5 carbs. The calories from drinks, including alcoholic beverages, are also quickly absorbed into the system, which means they may not protect against blood sugar levels.


People with diabetes who want to drink responsibly may find it beneficial to track the calories and carbohydrates in the beverages they consume. An accurate carb count can make it easier to track insulin needs and ensure that diabetics consume the right number of carbohydrates for their unique dietary needs. Tracking calories can also make it easier to stick to a diet, which may help people with type 2 diabetes manage weight and symptoms.

Alcohol and Diabetes - Alcohol and Diabetes

Checking Blood Sugar Regularly

Managing diabetes, including either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, often means regular blood sugar checks. When drinking, it can be essential for people with diabetes to make sure that they check their blood sugar regularly. Checking blood sugar regularly can make it easier for diabetics to track how alcohol has impacted them. On the other hand, failing to check blood sugar can cause people with diabetes to experience uncontrolled blood sugar challenges that may make it more difficult for them to stay healthy. 

Alcohol and Diabetes - Alcohol and Diabetes

Getting to Know Personal Limits

Drinking is a highly personal experience, with different people having different limits and boundaries. Some people can naturally drink more heavily than others without experiencing substantial consequences, while others may have a relatively limited tolerance for alcohol in general. Diabetics may need to get to know their limits so that they can determine how much they can safely drink. A strong understanding of those personal limits can make it easier for people with diabetes to decide when to limit alcohol consumption and how much they can consume. 

Alcohol and Diabetes - Alcohol and Diabetes

Having a Responsible Party

Alcohol can interfere with boundaries and normal critical thinking skills. A tipsy diabetic may inadvertently mix up medications or dosages, forget essential medications, or fail to take them correctly. While it is generally safe to drink alcohol, it is a good idea to have someone around when drinking.


Having a responsible party on hand who can remind a diabetic to take needed medications can make it easier to deal with the potential aftereffects of drinking. A responsible party can also make it easier to judge drinking behaviors and provide feedback when a diabetic may have experienced dangerous symptoms due to excess drinking since the person with diabetes might not remember those behaviors or symptoms the next day.

Help is Available

If you or a loved one are Diabetic and are having trouble drinking in moderation or cutting back on drinking, help is available.


At Wellness Retreat Recovery, you can focus on healing from various addictions, including alcohol addiction, in a comfortable, serene setting. We offer a variety of programs designed to help address binge drinking, alcoholism, and more in a peaceful environment where you can focus on that healing process. 


Contact us today to learn more about our Northern California alcohol rehab facility and how you can get best manage your recovery efforts.


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