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Alcohol and Diabetes

Don't Go Low

Follow these guidelines to avoid low blood sugar levels when you drink:

  • Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
  • Limit yourself to 1 drink if you're a woman or 2 drinks if you are a man.

Alcohol affects your body's ability to get over a low blood sugar level. If you have low blood sugar, you may need to treat it more than once as time goes by. If you've been drinking, check your blood sugar before you go to sleep. Eat a snack before you retire to avoid a low blood sugar reaction while you sleep.

A warning: glucagon shots don't help severe low blood glucose caused by drinking. Glucagon shots treat very severe low blood glucose reactions caused by too much insulin. Glucagon works by getting your liver to release more glucose into your blood. But alcohol stops this process. You need to be able to treat your reaction with a carbohydrate, such as oral glucose tablets or gels. So you need to avoid letting a low blood glucose level become severe. If you pass out, you will need glucose injected into your bloodstream by a health care professional.

Heavy drinking over time can hurt your liver. It won't be able to make glucose as well. When this happens, your diabetes is harder to control.

Some of the signs of drinking too much, such as confusion or slurred speech, are similar to the effects of a low blood sugar reaction or ketoacidosis (most common in people with type 1 diabetes who have taken too little insulin). You may be asked to take a blood or a breath test for alcohol if you have some of these signs. Don't worry. Diabetes will not affect the results of a test for alcohol, even if you are having a reaction or have a fruity smell to your breath because of high ketone levels. If you are asked to take a test for alcohol and you have a choice, choose a blood test. That way, health care providers can check your levels of glucose and ketones, too.