Dr Aidin Rawshani

Alcohol and Diabetes

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Diabetes and alcohol

People with diabetes, of course, can drink alcohol, the amount you choose to drink is your personal choice. Although alcohol has an effect on sugar levels in the blood, with some precautions and careful handling, even people with diabetes can benefit from a drink.

However, it is important to know that alcohol can lead to changes in blood sugar levels, either rising or decreasing sugar levels in the blood. Alcohol contains a lot of calories, make sure that your blood sugar levels are well controlled before drinking alcoholic beverages.

How does alcohol intake affect your diabetes?

  • Moderate levels of alcohol can cause a rise in sugar levels in the blood, at the same time high levels of alcohol can actually reduce blood sugar levels – sometimes even cause dangerous blood sugar drops, especially for people with type 1 diabetes.
  • Beer and sweet wine contain a lot of carbohydrates and can raise blood sugar.
  • Alcohol stimulates your appetite, which increases the intake of alcohol or other food
  • Alcoholic beverages often have a lot of calories, which makes it harder to lose weight.
  • Alcohol can also affect your decision-making skills, which often leads to fast food or sugary beverages.
  • Alcohol can affect some of the physiologically positive effects of diabetic drugs or insulin
  • Alcohol can lead to the fact that the concentration of a particular type of blood lipids (triglycerides) increases in the blood.
  • Alcohol can increase blood pressure
  • Alcohol can cause redness, nausea and increased heart rate

Recommended guidelines on alcohol consumption for people with diabetes

People with diabetes who drink alcoholic beverages should follow these guidelines

  • Do not drink more than two drinks of alcohol in a day (Example: an alcoholic equivalent, drink = 1.5 glasses of wine, 1 glass of liquor or 1.5 beer)
  • Drink alcohol only with food
  • Drink slowly
  • Avoid mixed drinks that contain a lot of sugar, sweet wines or plenty of beer.
  • Also drink other liquids such as water, soda or sugar-free soda.
  • Always use a medical warning jewelry that says you have diabetes, in case of an accident

Different types of alcohol affect the sugar levels in the blood in different ways, and this largely depends on the carbohydrate content of each alcohol variant. Beer has a tendency to increase sugar levels. Wine tends to have less carbohydrates than beer, which can have a less impact on sugar levels.

Spirits on their own, such as whiskey, vodka, rum and gin, do not have significant carbohydrates and therefore should not affect blood sugar. If you add something else to the drink, this should be taken into account.

Many people with diabetes point out that their blood sugar levels drop after drinking alcohol. People taking insulin should be especially careful and must be aware of the risks of blood sugar, as well as be prepared to adjust doses to prevent blood sugar falling (hypoglycaemia) during the night. Scientists and doctors believe that people who use insulin or sulfonylurea have a greater risk of suffering from blood sugar drops (hypoglycemia).

Ask your health care if you need help or advice to avoid low blood sugar levels after drinking alcohol. Alcohol can cause damage to organs such as the liver, heart and pancreas and even the skin. People with both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are more susceptible to this particular type of organ damage and should reduce their alcohol intake for that reason.

Where can you get help if you have alcohol problems?

Health center (general practitioner)

People who want to change their alcohol habits can get help at a health centre. There are different resources and skills for overconsumption of alcohol at a health center, but you always have the possibility to be referred to another healthcare institution with higher competence if indicated.

What kind of treatment or help can you get at the medical center?

A person with suspected overconsumption of alcohol will first see a doctor or nurse. There should also be an opportunity to see a psychologist or counselor. Then you can get advice on your alcohol intake and make a health check. Medical centers with psychologist and curator should offer motivational conversations or cognitive behavioural therapy. Medical centers can also offer treatment or refer to specialist doctors in addiction medicine. If you have occupational health care, you can get help there.

In some county councils and regions there are special alcohol receptions where doctors and nurses, psychologists, therapists and counselors are available for advice. People with hazardous alcohol consumption can get help from social services or help lines such as alcohol aid or alcohol line. 

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