Alcohol and diabetes: information and warnings

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Alcohol typically impacts blood glucose management and consuming it requires special attention when you have type 1 diabetes. Objective: be responsible drinkers without giving up this pleasure!

Alcohol and blood sugar: what you need to know

Consuming alcohol increases the risk of hypoglycemia – which can occur up to 24 hours after. Alcohol is immediately released into the bloodstream. The liver then breaks down and eliminates alcohol by filtering the blood. This can interfere with your ability to perform “normal” tasks, such as releasing glucose to regulate blood glucose levels. In doing so, alcohol can increase the effects of insulin, and lead to more  severe hypoglycemia. 

Alcohol also causes insulin resistance, which makes insulin less efficient. In addition, some mixed drinks (think screwdrivers, whisky coke,  and cocktails with names as exotic as their ingredients are sweet) contain a high level of quickly digested carbohydrates. There is a very real risk of hyperglycemia in the short term! This is why it is not uncommon to have a series of episodes of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia when consuming these types of drinks.

Food and drink 

To overcome these risks, nothing beats eating; food in your stomach will slow down the absorption of alcohol. The classic mistake: drinking on an empty stomach. This is particularly not recommended with type 1 diabetes because of the increased risk of hypoglycemia. Especially if you drink ‘pure’ alcohol without added sugars such as a glass of whisky or wine. We therefore recommend consuming alcohol with a meal or as an aperitif while enjoying the appetizers. Check your blood sugar regularly and always keep a supply of food close by to treat hypoglycemia.

Tip: Drink slowly and alternate your drinks with non-alcoholic (and sugar-free) drinks, ideally water. Alcohol actually tends to dehydrate.

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🔅Type 1 diabetes + alcohol can be a tricky mix… being prepared and having some tips in your back pocket can seriously help conquer a night out. Not letting T1D get in the way of having fun without ignoring the disease is an important balance. The being said, I’ve decided to compile some tips that have helped me on drinking alcohol with T1D! 🍹 ••• 1️⃣Assess the situation. consuming alcohol with a big dinner can be drastically different from consuming when you’re out dancing. 2️⃣Keep it simple. If you can, stick to 1 or 2 forms of alcohol in a night. Mixing wine, beer, hard liquor, cider can be a recipe for disaster. 3️⃣Keep snacks and low treatments on hand. 4️⃣Make sure someone you are with knows you have T1D. 5️⃣Don’t drink on a completely empty stomach. 6️⃣Track how many drinks you have had. 7️⃣Keep an eye on blood sugar. This goes without saying but it’s extra important to make sure you know what your blood sugar is at when drinking. Sometimes being low and being drunk can feel the same especially if you’re nervous/unsure about how drinking makes you feel with t1d. 8️⃣If you’re having mixed drinks, ask for your liquor mixed with half diet soda/sparkling water and half regular soda. I find think usually offsets the lowness brought on by the hard liquor. 9️⃣If you’re dancing or exerting a lot of energy, mix your drinks with only regular soda or opt of an alcohol that contains some carbs. 1️⃣0️⃣Be EXTREMELY mindful of how much insulin you’re putting in your body. Alcohol can make insulin act in weird ways. I like to veer in the cautious side and personally feel more comfortable slightly under bolus then trying to get everything perfect. ••• These are quite general tips and really, it is quite dependent on the situation you find yourself drinking in to make the best decision! If anyone has any other tips please leave in the comments! Consuming alcohol and T1D is sort of one of those things learned by experience, not in a diabetic health centre haha so let me know. 🙂 Stay safe friends 🎉💞🥂

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What type of alcohol should I choose?

Good to know: some alcohol, such as sweet (or cooked) wines and beer, contain a lot of carbohydrates. Sodas, industrial juices and other blends used for cocktails can also be very sweet. If you’re the one who is hosting, why not make your own cocktail? You can therefore use a reduced amount of alcohol, and add low sugar mixtures, such as flavoured sparkling water, vegetable juices or freshly squeezed fruit juice.

To better know and control your alcoholic intake, here are some nutrition facts, with calories as a bonus:)

– Beer, 5% alcohol: 340ml, 12g carbohydrates, 145 calories

– Cognac: 45ml, 0 g carbohydrate, 115 calories

– Gin, rum, scotch, vodka, whisky: 45ml, 0 g carbohydrate, 100 calories

– Dry white wine (12% alcohol): 140ml, 1g carbohydrate, 82 calories

– Cooked port wine: 85 ml, 10g carbohydrates, 130 calories

– Martini: 100 ml, 14g carbohydrates, 160 calories 

– Champagne: 140ml, 2g carbohydrates, 80 calories

– Red wine: 12% alcohol, 2g carbohydrates, 90 calories

– Rosé: 140ml, 2g carbohydrates, 86 calories

– Aperol Spritz: 175ml, 8g carbohydrates, 125 calories

– Mojito: 25g, 25g carbohydrates, 217 calories

– Gin and Tonic: 15g carbohydrates, 171 calories

Moderation: the secret to a good night

This is true for everyone: alcohol should be consumed in moderation. “Moderate consumption” is a maximum of two drinks per day for women and three for men, and less than ten to fifteen per week. In type 1 diabetes, particular care should be taken not to exceed these recommendations: excessive consumption can lead to serious complications, including diabetic coma. 

It is strongly recommended not to drink alone. When going out, make sure you are accompanied by someone who is aware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia and who is ready to help you if necessary. Caution: Signs of hypoglycemia can be confused with signs of drunkenness, which can lead to dangerous situations. It may be prudent to carry your medical identification card with you.

Managing the hangover 

To avoid a painful morning  – especially morning hypoglycemia – always remember to test your blood sugar before hitting the hay. Important reminder (especially if you are considering sleeping in): delayed hypoglycemia can occur up to 24 hours after alcohol consumption. If necessary, you can have a snack before going to sleep to prevent nocturnal hypoglycemia or adjust your insulin doses downward – after discussion with your doctor.

Before going to bed, hydrate yourself properly (ideally 1L) to reduce the effects of dehydration and limit (perhaps!) muscle cramps and the dreaded “hangover”.

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