Drinking Alcohol and Diabetes: Do They Mix?

beer glass sitting beside diabetes testing equipment

If you have diabetes, you may still be able to enjoy your favorite alcoholic beverages in moderation. But — and this is important — you should always check with your healthcare provider first. Your condition or the medications you’re taking could be affected by alcohol consumption.

Diabetes educator Andrea Harris, RN, recommends following these five safety tips.

1. Know if it’s OK for you to drink

This can’t be stressed enough: Check with your doctor or healthcare provider before you choose to drink. You need to know if your medications or any diabetes-related conditions you have could be seriously affected by alcohol consumption, Harris says.

2. Stay in control of your blood sugar

Make sure your diabetes is well controlled before you drink. If it is, follow these steps for keeping your blood sugar at safe levels:

  • Check your blood glucose levels before, during, and after you drink to know how you are doing.
  • Never drink on an empty stomach. Too much alcohol can block the production and release of glucose from the liver, causing your blood sugar levels to drop.
  • Don’t drink immediately before, during, or after exercise.

The effects of alcohol can last up to 24 hours, so it may be necessary to regularly monitor your blood sugar the following day to avoid dangerous lows.

3. Drink in moderation

If your healthcare provider says it’s OK for you to drink, follow the rules of moderation recommended for everyone. Moderation is considered up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

One drink is equal to:

  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
  • 1½ ounces of distilled spirits such as vodka or gin (80 proof alcohol).

Remember, guidelines are by day — you cannot save up all your drinks for the weekend!

4. Avoid certain types of drinks

Alcohol contains calories and has no essential nutrients. Consider these extra calories and sugars and always avoid liqueurs, sweet wines, tonic, regular soda, fruit juice, and sugary drink mixers. Also avoid drinks that are higher in alcohol content, such as craft beers and spirits that are more than 80 proof.

5. Stop drinking when you need to and make sure you can get help

If you experience a low blood glucose reading while drinking, stop drinking. Have something to eat and drink water. Remember that you could get to the point that you are not aware that you’re having low blood sugar symptoms. Being drunk and hypoglycemia causes the same symptoms of sleepiness and dizziness, and this means your treatment could be delayed. Remember to monitor your sugar and always wear your diabetes identification when drinking to avoid this problem.

To sum it up, the key to safe drinking, if you have diabetes, is to drink in moderation and to monitor your blood sugar regularly. This will keep you healthy and safe when you enjoy a toast with friends and family this holiday season.

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