Can I Drink With Diabetes? Does Alcohol Affect Blood Sugar?

8 tips to consider when drinking with diabetes

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As a diabetes educator, I frequently get asked from patients, “can I drink alcohol and, if so, how much?”  A lot of people don’t know that alcohol can actually lower your blood glucose level.  If you use insulin or certain diabetes medications you are at greater risk of having a low blood glucose reaction if you drink alcohol.  It’s important to have this conversation with your doctor to see if it’s safe. 

Keep in mind that alcohol should always be consumed in moderation, however if you choose to have an alcoholic drink, here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  1. Don’t drink on an empty stomach or when your blood glucose is low. Drink alcohol with a meal or carbohydrate snack like pretzels or crackers.   
  2. Don’t carb count your alcohol. If you count carbohydrates, don’t add alcohol to the equation.  Replacing alcohol with carbohydrate foods can be risky and lead to low blood glucose or hyperglycemia.  Alcohol is considered empty calories.  It provides no nutritional value, so drinking too much will add no benefit to you.  
  3. Drink in moderation. The American Diabetes Association recommends drinking in moderation and people with diabetes should follow the same guidelines as those without diabetes. Women should have no more than 1 drink a day, and men, no more than 2 drinks a day.  You might be wondering, what is one drink? To give you an idea, one drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 ½ ounces of distilled spirits (American Diabetes Association).   
  4. Sip on your drink and make it last. By drinking in small sips, you can savor the flavor and make that one drink feel like much more.
  5. Hydrate yourself by keeping water close by. It’s easy to forget to drink especially when you’re in the midst of a conversation. Grab a glass of water when you grab your alcoholic beverage and keep it close by, so that you remember to stay hydrated. 
  6. Wear a medical ID bracelet.  Wearing an ID bracelet is a great way to let others know you have diabetes in case of an emergency. 
  7. Beware of cocktails. Cocktails can use some very sugary mixers with high calories. This doesn’t mean you can never have a cocktail again, but find out the ingredients and make substitutions if necessary. Some examples of zero calorie mixers are diet soda, club soda, diet tonic water or water.
  8. Be safe and smart when drinking alcohol.  Always check your blood glucose levels and drink with someone who supports you and knows how to react when you have a low blood glucose level.

Cheers!

Hollie Breedlove, MS, RD, LD, CDE
Certified Diabetes Educator, Fit4D 

1.      American Diabetes Association.  (2017).  Making Healthy Food Choices:  Alcohol.  http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/alcohol.html?loc=rfhl.