A little while back I posted a blip asking for ideas on some topics to discuss. I got several; thanks again to those who participated. A couple of people suggested I post something about alcohol and it’s effect on diabetics.
Well, I do have quite a bit of experience with being a type 1 and getting wasted regularly.
Oh, those were the days…
First, let me say that by no means do I recommend drinking to excess, to anyone, especially diabetics. But the choice is yours.
Is alcohol really all that much more dangerous for a diabetic than a non-diabetic? It depends on how you look at it.
*I am not a doctor, scientist, or specialist on alcohol and diabetes. I am simply a type 1 diabetic who’s lived it. This post is my own personal take on the topic.*
Diabetic or not, when you drink your body absorbs the alcohol into your bloodstream and your liver must work hard to process it. If you drink too much too fast the alcohol will build up in your system and just float around in there for awhile. The liver cannot process all of the alcohol and some of it is just urinated out.
While your poor liver is working overtime to take care of the alcohol, it is not able to regulate blood sugar nearly as well and will neglect to dump glycogen. In diabetics this can be dangerous because it can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Low blood sugar is not the only danger. High blood sugar is possible when drinking as well. Many alcoholic beverages are high in carbs…and not all beverages come with a nutrition label that lists carb count! (internet to the rescue! You can usually look up your drink(s) of choice carb counts on the web).
Rule of thumb is one or two drinks will probably raise your BG and getting drunk will lower it! But this is not very reliable (and depends on types of drinks, body weight, gender, etc.) so make sure you check your BG often and if you use a CGM pay attention to it!
A danger of getting drunk is that drunkenness and hypoglycemia have very similar symptoms, so even if your friends know you are diabetic they may mistake your low blood sugar for you just drinking too much. A CGM with a low alarm and at least one sober friend that knows what that alarm means is a very good idea.
In my past I spent many a weekend getting totally wasted. I never experienced hypoglycemia, however, because I was not controlled and my BG was always pretty high. So even though the alcohol lowered my BG, it didn’t lower it enough to cause trouble for me.
I will say however that just a bit ago I did some drinking. I didn’t get drunk, but I did get a bit tipsy. When I went to bed that night my BG was 186. When I woke up the next morning it was 67. The vast majority of nights I go up during the night, not down, so am going to assume this was the alcohol.
A big problem for diabetics (or anyone really) with getting drunk is the dehydration. Alcohol dehydrates you big time. If you do not drink a lot of water with your alcohol you are just about guaranteed to get sick. I think almost every morning after my drink fests I spent half the day suffering from the symptoms of dehydration. For a diabetic dehydration can lead to some very serious issues which includes life threatening DKA.
So when you drink alcohol make sure to eat food ahead of time, keep a close eye on your blood sugar, and drink plenty of water!
I also would suggest a snack and a BG check before you head off to sleep because the low blood sugar can hit several hours after you did your drinking! Another reason a CGM is good for drinking diabetics.