Alcohol affects several systems in the body, including the body’s regulation of blood sugar, the cardiovascular system, and liver function. While this can have dangerous implications for anyone drinking heavily, people with diabetes can be at even greater risk for health problems.
Any person with diabetes type 1 or type 2 that chooses to drink alcohol is advised to monitor their drinking very closely. Excessive drinking and alcohol abuse can become dangerous quickly for diabetics. In severe cases, heavy drinking can result in coma or death.
Having a medical condition such as diabetes can complicate the treatment of alcohol abuse and addiction, but it does not make it untreatable. Many inpatient alcohol abuse programs can individualize patients’ treatment plans to suit their medical and mental health needs.
If you or someone you know has diabetes and is abusing alcohol, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Drinking Alcohol And Diabetes: Effects On The Body
Alcohol slows down activity in the brain and throughout the body and can cause numerous effects from a feeling of relaxation to drowsiness and decreased coordination.
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Drinking can cause a person to become less aware of how they’re feeling in their body as well as their surroundings. People can often feel disoriented and become confused or forgetful.
However, what may be lesser known to nondiabetics is alcohol’s effects on insulin production, blood sugar or glucose levels, and its negative interaction with some diabetes medications.
The effects of alcohol on blood sugar, for instance, can vary depending on the amount of alcohol consumed. Drinking a small amount of alcohol can cause blood sugar levels to rise. This is especially true with carbohydrate-heavy drinks like beer and sweet wine.
Large amounts of alcohol, however, can cause low blood sugar – or, hypoglycemia. Diabetics in a fasting state (i.e. don’t eat before drinking) are at an especially high risk for this. In severe cases of very low blood sugar, excessive alcohol can have life-threatening consequences.
Other effects of alcohol in diabetics can include:
- increased heart rate and blood pressure
- increased appetite
- slurred speech
- unable to think clearly
- blurred vision
Alcohol And Diabetes Type 2
The most common types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Both types are characterized by an inability to produce or regulate insulin in the body.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of cases of diabetes within the United States. Unlike type 1 diabetes, which is unpredictable and most often develops very early in life, type 2 diabetes can develop through a mix of personal and lifestyle factors.
In the early stages of type 2, the body is still able to produce insulin but is resistant to its effects. This is known as insulin resistance and can cause blood sugar levels to become abnormally high (hyperglycemia).
In time, however, the body becomes unable to produce enough insulin. This can lead to complications similar to those of type 1, where the body produces either very little or no insulin.
Diabetes and alcohol consumption is never something to take lightly. Although it is possible to drink alcohol on occasion as a diabetic, drinking always has to be closely monitored.
Health Risks Of Diabetes And Alcohol
Having a small drink is unlikely to result in life-threatening outcomes in people with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association outlines several recommendations for safe drinking among diabetics, highlighting the need to moderate and eat beforehand.
Excessive alcohol, however, or chronic alcohol abuse can have several dangerous effects in the body of diabetics and nondiabetics alike.
Binge-drinking, which involves drinking five or more drinks in one sitting, can increase a person’s risk for overdose, blackouts, and other harmful side effects. In diabetics, it can also cause a dangerous decrease in blood sugar.
Chronic heavy drinking, which involves drinking heavily on a daily or otherwise frequent basis, can cause damage to the pancreas, kidneys, heart, and liver. Liver and kidney damage, in particular, can pose several serious diabetic health risks.
The pancreas is the site of insulin production in the body, and the liver is the primary organ responsible for processing substances like drugs and alcohol. Excessive amounts of alcohol can cause severe liver damage and disease, affecting its ability to work properly.
Under normal circumstances, the liver holds emergency stores of glucose for when a person’s levels become too low. Alcohol blocks insulin production in the liver, which can cause glucose stores to become dangerously low.
Finally, alcohol can also interact with common medicines prescribed for diabetes, including chlorpropamide (Diabinese), metformin, and troglitazone. Drinking while taking one or more of these medications may cause them to work less effectively and cause side effects such as nausea and vomiting.
Additional health risks of heavy drinking in diabetics include:
- diabetic ketoacidosis (high ketone levels)
- low LDL cholesterol
- high HDL cholesterol
- high triglyceride levels
- cardiovascular disease
- peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
- eye disease
Symptoms Of Dangerous Drinking In Diabetics
Many symptoms of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia are similar to those of being drunk. This causes some people to mistake serious symptoms for drunkenness.
While feeling a bit dizzy or drowsy after drinking does not always signal harm for a non-diabetic, for diabetics this can signal larger problems.
Symptoms that can indicate dangerously high or low blood sugar levels after heavy drinking include:
- nausea and vomiting
- stomach pain
- muscle weakness
- numbness or tingling of the arms and legs
- loss of consciousness
Excessive alcohol and diabetes is a dangerous combination that can pose both short and long-term health consequences, including alcohol addiction.
Alcohol Abuse And Addiction Among Diabetics
Drinking heavy amounts of alcohol on a regular or daily basis is a primary sign of alcohol abuse. This can lead to dependence and addiction, which can cause a person to become unable to function normally without alcohol in their system.
For some, the struggle of alcohol abuse precedes their development of diabetes. In other cases, a person may develop a problem with drinking at some point after. In any case, alcohol abuse in both diabetics and nondiabetics can have deadly consequences without treatment.
Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) can have a profound, negative impact on a person’s ability to function in their personal and professional lives. The added difficulty of a medical condition like diabetes only makes this worse and can greatly harm both physical and psychological health.
Treating Alcohol Abuse In Diabetics
The most effective way to overcome alcohol abuse and addiction as a diabetic is to seek professional treatment. The safest recommendation is to enter an inpatient program.
Inpatient alcohol rehab programs often offer medical detox services as well as integrated treatment services for substance abuse and medical conditions. By entering a rehab program, specialists can help develop a treatment plan that meets you or your loved one’s needs for addiction recovery.
Diabetic patients being treated for alcohol abuse may regularly meet with a medical doctor, nutritionist, and attend sessions with a counselor to treat all medical and mental health needs. Programs typically last 30 to 90 days but may last longer depending on the progress and needs of each patient.
Contact us today to find an alcohol abuse treatment program for yourself or a loved one with diabetes.