Alcohol and Type 1 Diabetes: Your Guide to Drinking Alcohol Safely and Responsibly

*Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services. This blog is meant to provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this blog is not a substitute for medical care and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.*

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If you are can adult living with type 1 diabetes, you may find yourself curious about how alcoholic drinks may impact your blood sugar. Alcohol presents with a unique set of risks for people with diabetes, but that doesn't mean you can't partake in happy hour festivities anymore. This blog post will walk you through how to drink alcohol safely and responsibly with diabetes.


Can people with diabetes drink alcohol?

You can absolutely drink alcohol when you have diabetes. However, you will need to be mindful of a few things, including the alcohol and carbohydrate content of what you are drinking, how much you drink (and how fast), what you have eaten, and how these factors impact your blood sugar and insulin needs.


Alcohol consumption recommendations for diabetes

The recommendations for alcohol consumption are the same for those with diabetes as those for the general population. The CDC recommends that women consume a maximum of one drink daily, while men consume a maximum of two drinks daily. One “drink” is 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of alcohol. This is typically equivalent to drinking 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of a hard liquor.


How does alcohol affect blood sugar?

The impact of alcohol on blood sugar depends on various factors, including alcohol metabolism and the carbohydrate content in drinks. But, oftentimes alcohol has a rollercoaster effect on blood sugar levels. This is because most alcoholic beverages contain carbohydrates which will initially raise your blood sugar, but the alcohol it is combined with or by itself as the opposite effect.


Your liver releases glucose into your bloodstream throughout the day to give your body a constant energy source. However, when you consume alcohol your liver sees this as a toxic poison and prioritizes ridding the alcohol from your system as soon as possible. When your liver is focused on detoxification, it is no longer releasing glucose into your bloodstream which increases your risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.


How to Safely Consume Alcohol with Diabetes

When living with diabetes, it is important to be aware of how drinking alcohol may impact your blood sugar. If you choose to drink, there are some important things to keep in mind so you can do so safely and responsibly.


Amount of Alcoholic Beverages Consumed

The amount of alcohol you consume plays a significant role in how your blood sugar will respond. For example, if you have 1 glass of wine versus 1/2 bottle of wine, you can anticipate very different blood sugar responses. When you consume large amounts of alcohol, your liver will continue to prioritize detoxification or ridding your body of that alcohol as quick as possible. If you plan on consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol, you are increasing your risk of a low blood sugar.


On the other hand, the amount of alcohol consumed can also spike blood sugars. For example, if you order 1 margarita versus 1 fishbowl margarita, you will likely experience a larger blood sugar spike from the fishbowl margarita because there is more sugar in your drink that will be converted into glucose. When it comes to drinking safely and responsibly with diabetes, it is important to consider that the amount of beverages consumed can cause varying blood sugar responses.

Type of Alcoholic Beverages Consumed

Drinks that contain a high amounts of carbohydrates are often in the form of added sugars. These drinks will likely lead to a rise in blood sugars, just like a food high in sugar or carbs would. Drinks to be aware of include those with juices or sodas, along with any added sweeteners like syrups.

If you decide to order a sweetened cocktail or another carb-heavy drink, be conscious of how many you have and the amount of carbs and sugar in each drink. Consume your drink with a meal that includes fat and protein to slow down the digestion of the alcohol. Sip your drink slowly, as this allows your body to process the alcohol at a steady rate, instead of being flooded with a lot of alcohol and carbs all at once. You can also alternate your drinks. Try having a glass of water between each drink so that you drink less alcohol at one time and stay hydrated.


Time of Last Meal

Depending on whether you drink while eating or drink on an empty stomach, the impact on your blood sugars will vary. If you choose to have a drink with a meal, this will help your body body the alcohol more efficiently and reduce the risk of an alcohol-induced low blood sugar.


Timing of Drinks

Oftentimes cocktails and beverages can go down smoothly so it is important to be mindful about how quickly you are drinking. An alcoholic beverage containing a high amount of sugar will spike your blood sugar quickly if chug it all at once, but will have less of an impact if you sip on it over time. Plus, when you sip slowly on your drink is that you get to enjoy your beverage longer!


Monitor Blood Sugars Closely

When you decide to drink, make sure you prioritize monitoring your blood sugars through either a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or blood glucose meter. It can be helpful to have someone in your group appointed to remind you to check your blood sugar. Your blood sugar may not react as you expect, you may confuse symptoms of hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia with being drunk, or you may experience effects on your blood sugar for many hours. Therefore, its imperative to check often to be sure you stay on top of managing your blood sugar levels.


Be Smart, Be Safe

When it comes to consuming alcohol, your safety and the safety of those around you is of utmost importance. Talk to your doctor about medications you are taking and how they could impact you when drinking alcohol. Your care team may also advise you to adjust your basal insulin or insulin dose when you will be drinking. Always carry snacks and low blood sugar treatments with you in case you need them. Make sure those you are with are aware of your needs and will watch out for you. Be smart about how much you drink and how you consume it. Stay safe to enjoy good health and a good time while consuming alcohol.