Alcoholism leads to a variety of medical issues. For diabetics, however, alcoholism exacerbates an already-compromised immune system and can lead to more serious side effects. These can be fatal depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and the length of use.
The pancreas creates insulin and the body uses it to control blood sugar levels. Diabetes is a disease that affects blood glucose (sugar) levels. There are two common types of diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, once referred to as “juvenile diabetes,” the body does not produce enough insulin, the hormone that helps the body transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body.
Type 1 diabetics manage their blood glucose levels through glucose monitoring, insulin therapy and diet. This type of diabetes is thought to be genetic, and it is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.
Type 2 Diabetes
In type 2 diabetes, often referred to as “adult-onset diabetes,” the body does not respond properly to the presence of insulin. This discrepancy is called insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetics don’t make enough insulin, so their blood glucose levels rise above normal. This type of diabetes is caused by genetics and lifestyle, including heavy drinking, and it is usually managed through pills, diet and exercise.
Staying in Control of Your Diabetes
Whether type 1 or type 2, a diabetic can live a happy, healthy and long life – but only if he or she maintains regular control of his or her blood glucose levels.
Risks of Alcohol Use as a Diabetic
Whether a person consumes alcoholic beverages quickly or slowly, the result is the same 1-2 punch to the body. Alcohol depletes the body’s vitamin supply, harms the liver, weakens the immune system and causes dehydration – all when a person’s body functions as it should, without any medical intervention.
Diabetics should avoid alcohol use because it affects their blood glucose levels and leads to other complications. Specifically, alcohol can elevate or lower blood glucose levels, depending on what and how much is consumed.
Here are several important facts diabetics should consider before reaching for that next alcoholic beverage:
Adverse Interactions With Diabetes Medications
Alcohol certainly affects diabetes medications. While each drug is different, type 2 diabetes medications such as meglitinides and sulfonylurea can lower blood glucose levels when mixed with alcohol. These medications stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin while the alcohol inhibits the liver. Such effects can combine and lead to hypoglycemia (also called an “insulin reaction” or “insulin shock”), which is a serious medical emergency.
Lower Blood Glucose Levels (Hypoglycemia)
Alcohol can decrease blood glucose levels only a few minutes after consumption. Specifically, “straight” forms of alcohol, such as liquor, can cause low blood glucose levels. Health care professionals refer to low blood glucose levels as hypoglycemia.
People often assume that an insulin reaction happens fairly quickly. This is simply not true. The effects of alcohol on blood glucose levels can last up to 12 hours.
In non-diabetics, the normal blood glucose level should be 70 to 100 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). For diabetics experiencing hypoglycemia, their blood glucose level drops well below 70 mg/dL.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
• Heart palpitations
What may feel like a “good buzz” to a diabetic could actually be hypoglycemia – and turn into a serious medical situation. If left untreated, hypoglycemia can lead to a seizure, unconsciousness or even death.
Increased Blood Glucose Levels (Hyperglycemia)
Alcohol also can increase blood glucose levels only a few minutes after consumption. Specifically, alcohol mixed with syrup-based medication can cause high blood glucose levels. Health care professionals refer to high blood glucose levels as hyperglycemia.
Diabetics experiencing hypoglycemia have a blood glucose level above 100 mg/dL.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
• Blurred vision
People with long-term hyperglycemia can develop diabetic neuropathy (decreased sensation and blood flow to feet and toes).
Increased Weight And Risk Of Heart Disease
Alcohol contains a large amount of empty calories. Drinking alcohol can increase a person’s chance of becoming overweight. This, in turn, increases his or her chance of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease.
Diabetics Who Use Alcohol Should Seek Treatment
As a diabetic, your body needs proper care after alcohol use. Contact your physician for additional guidance on alcohol use and controlling your diabetes. If you find that you can’t break your cycle of alcohol use, you should reach out to a substance abuse treatment center and look to get admitted as soon as possible.