What Is the Connection between Alcohol and Blood Sugar?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Alcohol and blood sugar can interact in patients with diabetes who naturally have trouble controlling the level of glucose in their blood. It is possible for alcohol consumption to result in either hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, depending on a variety of factors, and it is important for people with blood glucose problems to moderate their alcohol consumption with care to avoid triggering an episode. Alcohol consumption generally doesn't need to stop altogether, but such patients do need to be more careful when having drinks.

Diabetics should carefully monitor their alcohol consumption and blood sugar levels.
Diabetics should carefully monitor their alcohol consumption and blood sugar levels.

In a patient who has not eaten recently and has low blood sugar, consuming alcohol can cause hypoglycemia. In this case, alcohol and blood sugar interact by suppressing the liver's ability to make glucose. The patient may start to become dizzy, disoriented, and sleepy, common symptoms of both alcohol intoxication and low blood glucose. Treatment may require a glucose injection from a doctor, as medications designed to trigger the liver into releasing glucose will not be as effective.

Some alcoholic drinks include high amounts of added sugar.
Some alcoholic drinks include high amounts of added sugar.

Patients who have eaten a large meal and consume alcohol with it, particularly sweet alcohol like some beers and wines, can develop hyperglycemia, where the alcohol causes their blood sugar to spike. Alcohol and blood sugar levels that are already high can be a bad mix, pushing the patient into crisis. Patients who know their bodies and are familiar with the way food acts in their systems can usually make educated decisions about when it is safe to consume a drink, and when it would be advisable to wait.

Those with a blood sugar level below 70, or hypoglycemia, will start experiencing symptoms like sweating, shaking, anxious feelings, hunger, and heart palpitations.
Those with a blood sugar level below 70, or hypoglycemia, will start experiencing symptoms like sweating, shaking, anxious feelings, hunger, and heart palpitations.

Blood sugar monitoring is generally recommended for patients with diabetes, and patients can use their readings to see if they are within normal range, making it reasonably safe to drink. Drinking alcohol in moderation with meals is usually safe unless a doctor specifically recommends otherwise. Patients concerned about alcohol and blood sugar can discuss the issue with a doctor to get a detailed recommendation, including advice on when it is safe to drink and when it is better to abstain.

Chronic alcoholics can develop blood sugar problems, whether or not they have diabetes, and in patients with diabetes, alcoholism can create significant problems. Both of these health conditions are challenging to control independently, and the combination can pose substantial risks to the patient. Alcohol treatment programs are generally recommended for such patients so they don't develop health problems as a result of the adverse interactions between alcohol and blood sugar.

Diabetics can use their blood glucose monitors to determine the amount of alcohol they can drink without negative effects.
Diabetics can use their blood glucose monitors to determine the amount of alcohol they can drink without negative effects.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

candyquilt

I don't know about others but I have type 2 diabetes and I can't drink any alcohol. My blood sugar shoots through the roof.

fify

@donasmrs-- This is very confusing, so I don't blame you. I'll try to explain it to the best of my ability. We just covered this in class, so that's the only reason I know.

Alcohol does initially raise blood sugar, but it's only temporary. As soon as you start drinking, the liver has to stop what its doing and start working on the alcohol so that it can get it out of the body as soon as possible.

Our liver is responsible for releasing glucose into our bloodstream when our blood sugar starts to go down. So initially while drinking, blood sugar will not go down. But after a while, because the liver is too occupied with alcohol, blood sugar will slowly start to fall.

Like the article said though, it also has to do with how much you drink, what type of alcohol you drink and whether you had eaten before. Those who drink on an empty stomach and who drink spirits are at the highest risk for lower than normal blood sugar levels.

donasmrs

I don't understand how alcohol can lower blood sugar. Doesn't alcohol contain carbohydrates? And carbohydrates raise blood sugar right? So shouldn't alcohol always cause high blood sugar?

Also, does the interaction between alcohol and blood sugar differ for type 1 and type 2 diabetics?

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