Diabetes and Alcohol: Is it OK?

If you've been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, type 1 diabetes, or type 2 diabetes, you're faced with several questions about your lifestyle. For example, is it OK to enjoy a glass of wine, a can of beer, or a cocktail with friends?

The official position of the American Diabetes Association with regard to alcohol is this: If a patient with diabetes is not already drinking alcohol regularly, he or she shouldn't start. If a patient with diabetes drinks a moderate amount of alcohol daily, he or she shouldn't increase that amount. And heavy alcohol drinkers are strongly advised to reduce consumption, regardless of whether or not they have diabetes. Studies have shown that high chronic consumption of alcohol (3 drinks or more per day) in patients with diabetes can cause deterioration in long and short term glucose metabolism. 

Guidelines on What to Drink and When

When alcohol enters your system, it's identified as a poison--and the liver reacts accordingly. The liver wants to clear the alcohol from the blood quickly and will not put out glucose again until that's taken care of. If you are drinking and your blood glucose levels are already falling, you are at risk of having very low blood sugar levels. 

The first rule of thumb is to never drink alcohol on an empty stomach. By combining it with food, you are lowering your risk of your blood sugar levels going too low. The American Diabetes Association also recommends limiting yourself to one drink per day if you are a woman and two if you are a man. 

With regard to the type of alcoholic beverage, it's best to follow cues from your eating plan. Avoiding drinks with excess sugar is key. A mojito or cosmopolitan is made with excess sugar as are drinks mixed with soda. When choosing a mixed drink, use diet soda or diet tonic as a substitute. Light beer and dry wines typically have less sugar, less carbohydrates, and less alcohol, making them a better choice. 

As with other activities, it is important to know where your blood glucose levels are before you consume alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend talking to your doctor about how alcohol will affect your diabetes. This will help determine when and how much is appropriate. Alcohol can be a poor choice for people suffering from nerve damage due to diabetes. Many diabetes patients also have high levels of triglycerides, and alcohol hinders the liver's ability to clear these fats from the blood. 

Remember, living with diabetes doesn't mean you have to stop living. Your doctor will be able to provide additional insight on whether alcohol is OK for you.