Rumors swirl around the relationship between alcohol and diabetes. Is a glass of wine helpful or harmful for blood sugar levels? Should individuals with type 2 diabetes start drinking, or stop entirely? We’ll break down the benefits, risks, and tips for diabetics when it comes to alcohol.
Disclaimer: This isn’t medical advice. We simply compiled scientific info on alcohol use and diabetes — condensing it into an easy-to-read article.
What are the benefits of drinking for diabetics?
In moderation, drinking can be beneficial for some people with type 2 diabetes. Yes, you read that correctly.
Drinking in moderation can give individuals with type 2 diabetes:
- A lowered cardiometabolic risk. Drinking moderately can slightly decrease cardiometabolic risk for type 2 diabetics — AKA the likelihood of a stroke, heart disease, or heart attack.
- Better blood sugar management. Some experts believe that drinking 1-2 drinks a day can improve your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, though findings are conflicting.
Unfortunately, there’s not a long list of how alcohol can benefit people with diabetes, but the cardiometabolic benefits are certainly nice to hear.
There is also some research that suggests teetotaling may be worse for diabetics than occasional moderate drinking.
What are the risks of drinking for diabetics?
There are plenty of risks to drinking for diabetics, especially if you drink too much. Exceeding the ADA guidelines for drinking can cause serious health problems.
Even worse is binge drinking, defined as more than 4 drinks in two hours for women, or more than 5 drinks in two hours for men.
Here are 6 potential risks of drinking for diabetics:
- Induced insulin resistance and weight gain. Binge drinking has been shown to increase or even induce insulin resistance, as well as packing on unhealthy pounds — even leading to obesity in some cases.
- Glucagon kits aren’t as accurate after drinking. Glucagon kits are commonly used in cases of type 1 diabetes, and even one drink will render them inaccurate.
- A raised risk of ketoacidosis. Binge drinking alcohol can raise the risk of entering the potentially lethal state of ketoacidosis, particularly for individuals with diabetes.
- High blood pressure. One of the primary effects of alcohol is that it raises blood pressure. It also dampens the effects of blood pressure medications.
- Potential nerve damage. Since alcohol is a neurotoxin, drinking may make nervous system problems worse in people with diabetic neuropathy.
- Spiked triglycerides. Chronic overconsumption of alcohol can increase triglyceride fat levels in the blood, which can lead to a myriad of other health issues like cardiovascular disease.
Can you drink alcohol if you have type 2 diabetes? Yes, you can drink alcohol if you have type 2 diabetes, as long as your blood glucose levels are under control and you drink in moderation.
If your blood sugar levels are not under control or you struggle with binge drinking, it’s best to stay away from alcohol.
If you’re sober curious or have a complicated relationship with alcohol, you may want to consider abstaining entirely.
It’s not about the alcohol — it’s the sugar.
While drinking too much is certainly bad for your hydration levels, liver, and heart health, the major way that alcohol can interfere with diabetes care is through its sugar content.
It’s well-known that a high sugar intake can not only increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, but cause dangerous high blood sugar fluctuations in people with the condition. Unfortunately, many alcoholic drinks contain high levels of sugar and large amounts of carbs.
For example, one 12-oz serving of hard cider contains 10-20 grams of sugar. Sweet wines contain up to 12 grams of sugar in a single glass. The sugar in alcohol constitutes a risk factor for hypoglycemia and even hyperglycemia.
It can throw off insulin regulation, exacerbating diabetes symptoms.
Alcohol and Diabetes Medications
Unfortunately, drinking alcohol can interfere with diabetes management, as it interacts with diabetes medications. While many other effects of alcohol and diabetes are still being studied, this one is clear.
Medicines such as sulfonylureas and meglitinides are designed to lower blood sugar, and when alcohol compounds their effects, they may cause insulin shock. In addition, regular binge drinking while taking medications like Metformin can cause serious side effects.
If you are using medication as part of your diabetes care, talk to your healthcare provider before having a sip.
7 Tips for Drinking Alcohol When You Have Diabetes
If you do choose to drink with diabetes, there are a few factors to keep in mind. Making healthier choices overall can lead to the benefits of drinking — without the potential side effects.
To drink more safely and healthily, type 2 diabetics and individuals with prediabetes should:
- Test your blood sugar. Staying informed on your levels can help you make wise decisions.
- Bring snacks with you, just in case. These can help even out any blood sugar changes.
- Stay hydrated. Try alternating between a glass of alcohol and a glass of water to keep your insulin in check.
- Eat before you drink. A full stomach can mitigate some of the negative effects of drinking and ward off low blood sugar levels. Choose carbohydrates for your meal and never drink on an empty stomach. These choices can reduce the risk of hypoglycemia.
- Choose a lower-sugar drink. Distilled alcohols, dry wines, and champagne have a relatively low sugar content. Sweeter wines, beers, ciders, and mixed drinks usually contain more insulin-spiking ingredients. If you do have a cocktail, be sure to mix it with diet soda or club soda instead of a sugary juice.
- Bring your ID. No, not just your driver’s license. Always keep your medical ID on you when drinking in case of an emergency.
- Keep your healthcare team updated. Your doctor can help guide your drinking habits. They will want to know of any lifestyle changes or diabetes diet choices you make around your alcohol consumption.
- Don’t use alcoholic drinks as a meal replacement. This is true for diabetics and non-diabetics alike. Alcohol doesn’t have the nutrition you need for your health.
- Stay within the guidelines for moderate drinking. One drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men may not seem like much, but it’s crucial for keeping blood glucose under control. A standard drink is defined as 12 fluid oz of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ oz of spirits.
While drinking moderately is possible for diabetics, the many health benefits of going alcohol-free are reason enough for many to swear off alcoholic beverages.
Here’s the bottom line.
While everyone should drink responsibly in moderation, sticking to these recommendations is particularly important for individuals with diabetes. Drinking more than the ADA guidelines, partaking on an empty stomach, or choosing sugary beverages can negatively impact diabetics.
There is a small amount of evidence that points to the cardiometabolic benefits of alcohol for individuals who have diabetes. However, it’s not significant enough to begin drinking if you don’t already consume it. Again, moderation is key here.
At Surely, we love the taste of wine but hate the negative health effects that can come with it. That’s why we created a non-alcoholic wine that is low in both calories and sugar. It’s not grape juice. We just removed the alcohol after it was made.
That doesn’t mean it sacrifices taste, though: Surely is made from high-quality grapes in Sonoma wine country.
- Effects of Initiating Moderate Alcohol Intake on Cardiometabolic Risk in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes: A 2-Year Randomized, Controlled Trial.
- Impact of Alcohol on Glycemic Control and Insulin Action.
- Binge Drinking Induces Whole-Body Insulin Resistance by Impairing Hypothalamic Insulin Action.
- Alcoholic ketoacidosis.
- Consumption of alcohol and blood pressure: Results of the ELSA-Brasil study.
- Alcohol and plasma triglycerides.