Is It Safe to Drink Alcohol If I Have Diabetes?

Alcohol can make some diabetic problems worse

couple drinking wine

Some people who have diabetes can safely drink moderate amounts of alcohol, but for others any amount of alcohol intake can have very negative health consequences.

You may have heard that drinking is strictly off limits if you have diabetes, but most diabetics can have a moderate amount of alcohol. The key word is "moderate," and according to the American Diabetes Associate that means no more than one standard drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.

Generally speaking, if you have diabetes and your glucose levels are under control, drinking moderately is OK, in most cases.

There are some circumstances under which people with diabetes should not drink alcohol in any amount. The key for those with diabetes is to understand what conditions can be worsened if they consume alcohol.

When Drinking Is Harmful

According to the American Diabetes Association, drinking alcohol is a poor choice if a person with diabetes has the following conditions:

Alcohol can damage nerve cells; even light drinking can cause nerve damage. For those with nerve damage, drinking can increase the pain, numbness, tingling or burning sensation associated with diabetic nerve damage.

For those with eye disease symptoms, heavy drinking can make diabetes worse, and heavy drinking is defined as three or more drinks during one day.

People with diabetes who also have high blood pressure should also not drink alcohol.

Alcohol can also increase the amount of triglycerides in the blood. Even very light drinking, defined as two drinks a week, can increase triglyceride levels. Those with diabetes and high triglycerides should not drink alcohol at all.

Risking Low Blood Sugar

People with diabetes who take medication—insulin shots or oral diabetes pills—run the risk of low blood sugar levels if they drink alcohol.

When blood sugar levels drop, the liver usually begins to produce glucose from stored carbohydrates to compensate. But drinking alcohol blocks the liver's ability to produce glucose.

The liver treats alcohol as a toxin and works to rid the body of alcohol as quickly as possible. The liver will not produce glucose again until the alcohol has been processed and cleared from the body.

Check Your Glucose Level

The American Diabetes Association recommends that those with diabetes never drink on an empty stomach in order to protect themselves from low blood sugar—drinking only after a meal or a snack.

The association also recommends that people with diabetes who have had something to drink check their blood sugar before going to sleep. They should also eat a snack before bedtime to avoid a low blood sugar reaction while sleeping. That is because alcohol can cause hypoglycemia shortly after drinking and for up to 24 hours after you drink.

How Much Alcohol Is OK?

People with diabetes taking medication to control blood sugar levels should first ask their doctor if it is OK to drink alcohol with their specific medication.

For those taking medication, it is recommended to limit alcohol intake to one drink for women and two drinks for men. Even 2 ounces of alcohol can interfere with the liver's ability to produce glucose.

Don't Drink Alcohol After Exercising

Because exercise can also decrease blood sugar levels, drinking immediately following exercise is not recommended.

For those trying to control weight gain, drinking alcohol is not a wise choice. Alcohol quickly adds calories to the diet without adding any nutritional value. Even two light beers can add 200 calories.

For those with type 2 diabetes, who control their diabetes with diet and exercise, rather than medication, drinking alcohol is less of a risk factor for low blood sugar.

Tips for Drinking With Diabetes

If you are planning to drink, the American Diabetes Association offers these tips for keeping your alcohol consumption safe:

  • Don't drink on an empty stomach or when your glucose is low.
  • Don't substitute alcohol for food in your diet plan.
  • Wear a medical ID saying you have diabetes.
  • Don't glup; drink your beverage slowly.
  • Keep yourself hydrated with water or a zero-calorie beverage.
  • Avoid beverages with high alcohol content.
  • Use calorie-free mixers for mixed drinks.
  • Don't drive for several hours after drinking.

If you plan to drink, it is of course always best to check with your doctor or healthcare provider to make sure alcohol will not interact with your diabetes and other medications.


American Diabetes Association. AlcoholMaking Healthy Food Choices. 2014.

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