Alcohol and Diabetes: How to Drink Safely

You can imbibe when you have diabetes, but follow these tips to protect your health.

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Good news first: Most doctors agree that it’s perfectly healthy to continue to drink alcohol with diabetes. But you have to understand how imbibing affects your blood sugar.

Alcohol can cause a short-term rise in your blood sugar. But the tricky thing is that hours later, you can experience a drop in blood sugar that could cause hypoglycemia if you’re not careful.

“When you're diabetic, it's very important that if you do have alcohol, it's as part of a meal or it's with a meal, because having that mix of carbohydrate and protein and fat in your body will help mitigate the effect of the alcohol,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutritionist and cookbook author in New York City.

And keeping moderation in mind is key. Heavy alcohol use can inflame the pancreas, which is already taxed when you have diabetes. Don’t binge drink. Remember, symptoms of being drunk can be similar to those of low blood sugar (sluggishness, confusion, sleepiness, dizziness, slurred speech), and being intoxicated would certainly make it more challenging for you to recognize signs of hypoglycemia and get the medical attention you need.

Stick to no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

Check your blood sugar levels before and after drinking so you can make sure you know how different drinks and cocktails affect you. Also be sure to check blood sugar before you go to sleep. It can take hours for alcohol to be metabolized, so drinking can impact your blood sugar long after you’ve called it a night.

“If you ever really have a concern about how much alcohol you should or should not be drinking, you can always speak to your doctor or your nutritionist about how to safely incorporate that into your plan,” says  internal medicine doctor Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD. It’s always a good idea to get your doctor’s OK and make sure that alcohol won’t interfere with any medication you’re taking.