What to Know About Alcohol and Diabetes, According to an Expert


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Living with diabetes doesn’t mean you have to live a life of deprivation and misery, but you'll need to play it smart when it comes to drinking.

Alcohol can have an impact on blood sugar, and you should be aware of its effects. Here are some facts on alcohol and the impact drinking has on the health and safety of a person with diabetes.

1. What is diabetes?

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Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how your body turns food into energy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your body converts food into glucose (sugar) that goes into the bloodstream. The pancreas reacts by releasing insulin. When an individual has diabetes, insulin isn’t released or isn’t processed correctly, resulting in too much glucose in the bloodstream. High blood sugar or glucose levels can be dangerous and result in serious health conditions.

2. Can you drink alcohol with diabetes?

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The topic of diabetes and alcohol is discussed in a 2021 Mount Sinai Health Library article. The article suggests it’s safe to drink alcohol if:

  • Your diabetes is under control.

  • Your health care provider has given you the OK to drink moderately.

  • You understand how alcohol can affect your blood sugar and precautions to take to prevent problems.

3. How does alcohol affect diabetes?

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“When alcohol is consumed, it may reduce the liver’s ability to produce glucose,” Dr. Matthew Freeby, director of the Gonda Diabetes Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, said. “There’s a risk for low blood sugars, because essentially the liver is trying to metabolize the alcohol rather than produce glucose.”

The result is less glucose in your bloodstream, causing low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.

So should someone with diabetes avoid drinking alcohol? The old saying, “Everything in moderation,” might be key.

4. What does drinking in moderation mean?

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The CDC defines drinking in moderation as two drinks or fewer a day for men and one drink or less a day for women. It defines one drink as:

  • 12 ounces of beer

  • 5 ounces of wine

  • 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits

5. Drinking alcohol when you have diabetes

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For people with diabetes who would like to have a drink now and then, Freeby offers these recommendations:

  • Consult with your health care provider first to discuss the health and safety risks of consuming alcohol.

  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach.

  • Stick to low-carb drinks whenever possible. (Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that light beers, dry wines, and drinks mixed with diet soda or seltzer are good choices. Sweet wines and mixed drinks like piña coladas and wine coolers are not.)

  • Consume food with carbs while drinking. Try snacks such as half a sandwich; yogurt; or cereal with milk, cheese with crackers, or apple with peanut butter, Hopkins Medicine suggests.

  • Monitor your glucose levels before, during and after drinking.

  • When possible, share your glucose monitoring data with a person you’re with while drinking.

  • Consume a snack before bedtime to reduce the risk of low blood sugar overnight.

  • Carry a rescue agent like glucose with you. Individuals known to have dangerously low blood sugars may also carry a rescue agent called glucagon (GlucaGen) that can increase sugars in an emergency situation.

  • The American Diabetes Association has more on drinking with diabetes.

6. Source and more information

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Source: Matthew Freeby, MD, director, Gonda Diabetes Center, University of California, Los Angeles, assistant professor of medicine and associate director of clinical diabetes programs, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA

For more information on diabetes, check out these additional resources:

Understanding Diabetes: What It Is, Types, Symptoms & Treatments

Prediabetes: What You Need to Know About Its Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Type 1 Diabetes: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Type 2 Diabetes: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment