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Updated on February 2, 2023
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Can Alcohol Cause Diabetes?

When you drink alcohol regularly, you can reduce your body’s insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

For people with preexisting diabetes, drinking alcohol can sharply increase or decrease blood sugar levels. This reaction makes drinking alcohol very dangerous for them.

While alcohol does not cause diabetes, it may increase the risk of developing it or worsen its related health conditions.

Type 2 Diabetes and Alcohol

Around 90% to 95% of adults diagnosed with diabetes in the United States have type 2 diabetes.9  It occurs when the body has trouble using insulin properly and cannot regulate blood sugar levels.

When people with type 2 diabetes drink alcohol, their systems can accumulate certain acids in their blood. It can result in severe health consequences.

Additionally, alcohol can worsen medical complications that are related to diabetes. These include:

  • Nerve damage
  • Impaired fat metabolism
  • Eye Diseases

People with a dual diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and alcohol dependence have a higher risk of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is when your blood sugar levels are lower than they should be.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness

People with type 2 diabetes may take injectable medications, like insulin, or oral medications to manage their blood sugar levels. If they drink alcohol, it may have undesirable interactions with their medications and cause unwanted side effects.

These side effects include:

  • Impaired liver function
  • A build-up of lactic acid in the blood
  • Increased need for oxygen
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
  • Flushing
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Doctors advise people with type 2 diabetes to avoid heavy or binge drinking to prevent complications from unstable blood sugar levels.

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Type 1 Diabetes and Alcohol

People with type 1 diabetes are dealing with an autoimmune reaction where their body stops making insulin. They typically need more than one insulin injection a day to maintain normal blood sugar levels.

People with type 1 diabetes generally have higher blood sugar levels than the average person. Alcohol’s effects on them depend on several factors.

These factors include:

  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Body fat percentage
  • Previous meals
  • Physical activity
  • Current physical health

Depending on these factors, a standard drink of alcohol could lower their blood sugar and possibly cause hypoglycemia.9 However, if they abuse alcohol, they risk increasing their blood sugar levels and causing serious health complications.

How Alcohol Use Impacts Diabetes

People with diabetes risk developing serious health problems if they drink alcohol. Alcohol impairs the ability to control blood sugar levels. Complications that can occur when people with diabetes consume alcohol include: 

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition where people suffer nerve damage. They have trouble controlling their muscles and feeling sensations like pain or temperature. 

Drinking alcohol can worsen nerve damage in people with diabetes. It often increases any pain, burning, tingling, and numbness they may already feel from their neuropathy.

Impotence

Impotence is also known as erectile dysfunction. A man cannot get or maintain an erection.

When someone with diabetes drinks alcohol, their blood levels of testosterone may be reduced. This can cause a hormonal imbalance and, in turn, impotence.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Retinopathy is an eye condition that affects the retina. It can start with zero to mild symptoms but eventually lead to blindness. Diabetic retinopathy can be exacerbated by alcohol use due to its effect on blood glucose control.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis is common in people with type 1 diabetes. It occurs during a lack of insulin and a spike in glucagon, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels.

When this happens, the body can’t metabolize the blood sugar, and the byproducts may cause  an excessive build-up of acids called ketone bodies. People experience symptoms like nausea and vomiting. It can also cause comas or death.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the primary cause of death for people with type 2 diabetes. Alcohol is known to increase blood pressure, increasing the chances of developing heart disease.

Hypertriglyceridemia

Hypertriglyceridemia is another risk factor for heart disease. It's caused by high levels of fats called triglycerides. It can result in severe inflammation of the pancreas and even death.

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Is it Safe To Drink Alcohol With Diabetes? 

An occasional standard alcoholic drink should not seriously affect blood sugar levels. Levels can either go higher or lower depending on whether a person eats. 

 In most cases, one drink is: 

  • 12 ounces (oz.) of beer
  • 5 oz. of wine
  • 1.5 oz. of whiskey or other spirits

Excessive drinking (including heavy or binge drinking) may upset blood sugar levels dramatically and result in serious health complications.

If you are going to drink, it is best to opt for these beverages:

  • Light beers
  • Dry wines
  • Non-sugary cocktails or mixed drinks

Consult a healthcare professional before drinking any type of alcohol when you have diabetes. Many people live with diabetes, but each person is unique. A doctor can best determine if alcohol consumption is a possibility.

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Summary

  • Diabetes is a long-term disease that makes it difficult to regulate blood sugar levels
  • While alcohol does not cause diabetes, it can increase the risk of developing the disease or worsen its related health conditions due to alcohol’s ability to raise blood sugar levels
  • Alcohol has effects on type 1 and 2 diabetes
  • Always speak to your doctor before consuming alcohol when diagnosed with diabetes
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Updated on February 2, 2023
9 sources cited
Updated on February 2, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Diabetes Quick Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020.
  2. What Is Diabetes?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020.
  3. Baliunas et al. “Alcohol as a Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes A Systematic.” American Diabetes Association, 2009.
  4. Howard et al. “Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Diabetes Mellitus: a Systematic Review.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2004.
  5. van de Wiel, A. “Diabetes Mellitus and Alcohol.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2004.
  6. Beulens et al. “Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in European Men and Women: Influence of Beverage Type and Body Size The EPIC-InterAct Study.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2012. Carlsson et al. "Alcohol consumption and type 2 diabetes." Diabetologia, 2005
  7. “Type 2 Diabetes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021.
  8. Type 1 Diabetes Facts.” JDRF.
  9. Alcohol & Diabetes.” American Diabetes Association.

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