My personal experience.
If you have been following me you already know that I am passionate about fighting diabetes, but I don’t really talk much about alcohol and diabetes. Maybe that’s because it’s a topic filled with too many negative outcomes. Over the years I have lost 2 nephews in their 30’s and 40’s to alcohol addiction, with the most recent happening just recently in 2022.
For myself, like many people do, I regret stupid decisions I made in high school related to alcohol – including drinking and driving. I survived only by the grace of God.
But when I look back and ask myself why I did those stupid things, I realize I drank alcohol to cope with the stress in my life, most of which ironically was connected to my dad not coping with life well and not taking care of his diabetes. He sometimes used alcohol to cope with stress as well.
We always hope that our kids don’t do stupid things like we did when we were young right? Unfortunately my kids also had some dangerous drinking experiences during their high school and college years. And again, by the grace of God, they survived. Today they are healthy, happy adults that I am very proud of.
But enough about me. Let’s talk about some common questions on how alcohol affects diabetes.
Does alcohol raise blood sugars?
If you have prediabetes or diabetes, sweet drinks will likely raise your blood sugar. That would include sweet wine or mixers.
What many people with diabetes don’t realize is that if you take certain diabetes medications you are at a much higher risk of having a low blood sugar after drinking alcohol.
Let me try to explain.
Our liver stores sugar and releases sugar into the bloodstream if blood sugar levels get too low.
Our liver also has the job of clearing alcohol out of our body.
When we drink alcohol, our liver makes getting rid of the alcohol a high priority and if our blood sugar drops too low, our liver may not release sugar like it should.
Often this happens after a few hours or even several hours after drinking alcohol, when our awareness and judgment is not the greatest, or we are sleeping and don’t notice it.
Bottom line: if you have any form of diabetes and choose to drink alcohol, check your blood sugar so you know that you are at a safe level and understand how alcohol affects your blood sugar. And good advice for anyone – don’t drink without having a meal or snack.
Does alcohol affect men and women differently?
One drink for a woman is equal to two drinks for a man. Why?
First, women’s bodies have less water content and more fat content proportionately than men. Water dilutes alcohol and fat retains it, so as women, our organs are exposed to higher concentrations of alcohol for longer periods of time.
Second, women have less of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. That enzyme is what breaks down alcohol before it reaches the bloodstream. So if I drink the same amount of alcohol as my husband, my blood alcohol level will be higher, regardless of the difference in our body weight.
How much does alcohol affect weight?
Alcohol is a big factor in weight gain because alcohol is high in calories. That’s not even taking into account the added calories if you mix it with something sweet.
Our bodies also metabolize alcohol to fat efficiently. Plus, we are told not to drink on an empty stomach right? But when’s the last time you had a few drinks and asked for fruits and veggies?
No, we go for the carbs! . . . . Pizza, chips, fast food . . . . even more calories! So the “beer belly” is definitely a real thing.
What about news stories that say drinking alcohol can help prevent diabetes?
There are some studies that suggest drinking moderate amounts, up to one glass of wine daily for women and up to two glasses daily for men, was associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But that lower risk was only when people drank alcohol with meals.
So should we start drinking alcohol to prevent diabetes?
If you already like a glass of wine with dinner, great. But if you don’t drink, that’s not a good reason to start.
Full transparency – I do enjoy the taste of a cold beer some evenings, especially in summer. But I avoid all other types of alcohol because I simply don’t like how they make me feel. I will also say that, because of the problem-drinking history some of my family members have had, I sometimes get worried and question if I have a problem. In fact, this past summer I decided to test myself and go 10 days without alcohol. Thankfully I succeeded but it was just reassuring to confirm to myself that I did not have a problem.
Just like with food MODERATION IS KEY. But most of us struggle with that habit, myself included. But I do feel I am aware of my intake and the effects.
In my opinion, the potential negative effects of alcohol far outweigh the positive effects. If you do enjoy alcohol, and it does not cause you problems, great! Just be aware of how it affects you and your blood sugars. You can also review the American Diabetes Association information on alcohol and diabetes here.