Over 4.3 million people in the UK have diabetes as of 2021-2022. And 850,000 people could be living with diabetes who have not yet been diagnosed. In light of these alarming statistics, we decided to address the multiple factors that impact the lives of individuals with diabetes and how alcohol addiction affects their lives.
Living with diabetes requires constant care and attention to lifestyle choices. Among these choices is alcohol consumption. However, many people with diabetes do not know not to be fully aware of the consequences of alcohol use on their health. There is an intricate relationship between alcohol and diabetes, both because of the sugar content in some alcoholic drinks, but also because of the fact that alcohol is a neurological depressant and can obstruct correct measurements and observations of your health.
As a long-running addiction treatment service, the Providence Project is here to support you through your journey. We admit many people suffer from co-occurring disorders and chronic diagnoses. Please, even if you are ashamed or embarrassed of your alcohol use, contact us. We are a confidential service and offer a free assessment for you.
How Alcohol Affects Blood Sugar
Alcohol consumption can affect blood sugar levels in several ways. Firstly, alcohol is a depressant, which slows down your body’s functions. So, initial research shows that drinking alcohol causes your blood sugar levels to drop. This is because the depressant activity of alcohol interferes with the liver’s ability to release glucose into the bloodstream. As a result, you may experience symptoms of low blood sugar, such as:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Irritability or moodiness
- Weakness or fatigue
- Blurred vision
- Pale skin
On the other hand, if you drink excessively or binge on sugary drinks, your blood sugar levels can rise rapidly. Sugar is often used in alcoholic cocktails to add sweetness and balance out the acidity, bitterness, and burn from the spirits used in the drink. So it usually does not give the recognisable taste of regular alcohol.
When you consume alcohol, your liver processes it and releases glucose into the bloodstream. This glucose release can cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, especially if you consume excessive amounts of alcohol or binge on sugary drinks.
For people with diabetes who struggle to manage their blood sugar levels effectively, these fluctuations can be hazardous and can increase the risk of developing complications related to diabetes.
Alcohol and Insulin Levels
Another way alcohol affects people with diabetes is through insulin. Insulin is a crucial factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. Drinking heavily or binging on sugary drinks is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. According to a study, people who drink heavily have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Alcohol can affect insulin levels in several ways.
- Alcohol is a source of empty calories, providing energy but having little or no nutritional value. Consuming too much alcohol can lead to weight gain and obesity, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Alcohol can interfere with the normal function of insulin in the body. When you take alcohol, your liver focuses on breaking down the alcohol instead of producing glucose, which can cause blood sugar levels to drop.
- Drinking alcohol can cause insulin resistance, meaning that the body’s cells can become less responsive to insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Alcohol can interact with medications used to treat diabetes, such as insulin injections and oral medications.
- Alcohol can affect blood sugar monitoring. Alcohol in your bloodstream can affect the accuracy of blood glucose monitoring devices, leading to false readings. It is essential to wait until alcohol has cleared your system before monitoring your blood sugar levels to ensure accurate readings. Because waiting is not always the case, we strongly recommend that you go sober altogether.
Sugar Levels in Popular Drinks in the UK
As an alcohol addiction treatment service with over 20 years of success stories, we have witnessed the effect of alcohol on many levels. One of the most common misconceptions about alcohol and diabetes is that it’s okay to drink as long as what you are having is not sugary. However, even moderate amounts of alcohol can hurt your health with the amount of sugar they contain.
In the UK, alcoholic beverages account for over 9% of the total consumption of “free sugars” among individuals between the ages of 18 and 74. The following shows how much sugar is in popular drinks in the UK:
- A pint of cider (568ml) contains around 20g of sugar
- A 175ml glass of red wine contains approximately 2g of sugar
- A 330ml can of lager contains about 1g of sugar
- A single measure of spirits (25ml) contains no sugar
We recommend you to read the labels of alcoholic drinks carefully to understand their sugar content. If your bartender cannot give you sugar amounts, make sure to inform them of your medical condition before asking for sugary cocktails.
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Why Is Sugar in Alcohol Dangerous for Your Health?
The reason is hypoglycaemic unawareness. It is characterised by not being able to experience the typical symptoms of low blood sugar levels when they occur. If you cannot feel your blood sugar has dropped too low, it can lead to severe hypoglycemia and even loss of consciousness. Being a central nervous system depressant, drinking alcoholic beverages puts you in a considerable risk because it makes it difficult to recognise and respond to low blood sugar symptoms.
Side-effects of Drinking Alcohol while Suffering from Diabetes
Here is an outline of the side effects of alcohol in people with diabetes:
- Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic, which can cause the body to lose fluids and lead to dehydration. Dehydration can cause blood sugar levels to rise, leading to other complications, such as kidney damage.
- Increased appetite: Alcohol can stimulate appetite and lead to overeating or poor food choices, making it harder to manage blood sugar levels.
- Nerve damage: Long-term alcohol use can damage nerves and lead to alcoholic neuropathy. This can cause symptoms such as tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, making it harder to feel when blood sugar levels are low.
- Weight gain: Alcoholic drinks can be high in calories and sugar, contributing to weight gain and making it harder to manage blood sugar levels.
How to Protect Yourself
It is crucial to be aware of the potential risks and to drink alcohol in moderation or even go sober.
- You should also monitor your blood sugar levels carefully and be prepared to treat hypoglycemia if it occurs.
- If you can, stay away from cocktails and sugary drinks such as cyders, wine-based drinks, fruity drinks and sweet soda-based mixes.
- Inform your party and bartender about your chronic condition before binging.
- Make sure you have a sober companion who can take care of you if you need them to.
- It is always advisable to speak with a healthcare provider before consuming alcohol if you have diabetes.
Treatment Options at The Providence Project
At the Providence Project, we offer a range of evidence-based treatment options to help you if you are struggling with an addiction to alcohol. Our treatment programmes are tailored to meet your unique needs, especially in the presence of diabetes or another chronic condition.
- We will begin our treatment with a free assessment, but a more detailed, medical screening might be necessary, too.
- We will then begin preparing your documents for admission. We will admit you within 24 hours of your assessment, as long as you are ready.
- Our detoxification experts will make sure your diabetes will not be negatively affected by the cleansing period.
- Once clean and sober, we will begin the therapeutic process which can include one or a combination of CBT, DBT, Motivational interviewing, workshops and holistic therapies.
- We also offer complimentary aftercare to help you move back into your everyday life without feeling a huge gap between the protected environment and your duties.
We understand that finding the proper treatment can be overwhelming, but seeking help as soon as possible is essential to prevent further damage to your health. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction and diabetes, we encourage you to contact us for help.
Remember, alcohol addiction is a treatable condition, and seeking help is the first step toward recovery. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for support and guidance on your journey to a healthier and happier life.