A Wee Bit of Wisdom About Alcohol and your Blood Sugar

By Susan Klick, MSN, RN, CNL

 Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Have you ever really thought about why we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Or is it just a holiday when you decorate your front door with something green, cook corned beef and cabbage, paint a street green and maybe indulge in an Irish coffee or green beer? The truth is, it is a day to celebrate not just the Irish culture, but to celebrate the life of St. Patrick himself, the patron Saint of Ireland. But did you know that St. Patrick is also the patron saint of engineers???? That is because one of St. Patrick’s achievements was teaching the Irish to build arches of lime mortar instead of dry masonry. These beginnings of ceramic work developed into organized crafts, and that is how St. Patrick became a patron saint of engineers.

Should you decide to kick up your heels a wee bit on St. Patty’s day, here are some guidelines on Diabetes and Alcohol: If you have questions about whether alcohol is safe for you, talk to your doctor.

Alcohol and your body

Alcohol goes from your stomach straight into your blood. The alcohol in your blood stream is highest 30 to 90 minutes after drinking. Your liver slowly breaks down alcohol. If you weigh 150 pounds, it takes about 2 hours to break down one drink. Two drinks take twice as long, or 4 hours. If you drink faster than your body breaks it down, the alcohol stays in your blood and affects other body parts. When alcohol affects your brain, you feel or act drunk. Some signs of too much alcohol (slurred speech, confusion) are similar to low blood glucose. If you drink a lot of alcohol (3 or more drinks a day), you may develop liver disease and other health problems.

Alcohol and blood glucose

Alcohol can make blood glucose too high or too low. You need to know when and how to drink to keep your diabetes under control. When no alcohol is in the blood, your liver keeps blood glucose from going too low by releasing glucose into your blood. However, if the liver is busy breaking down alcohol, it cannot release glucose into your blood!

If you take insulin or diabetes pills, your blood glucose may go too low when you drink alcohol because the medicine causes your blood glucose to go low and the liver is not releasing any glucose.

The sugars in many drinks can cause blood glucose to go too high and alcohol can also cause high blood triglycerides (fats).

Alcohol and Diabetes

Many people with diabetes can have a moderate amount of alcohol if they want. Still, there are some people who should avoid alcohol. A moderate amount of alcohol is no more than:

1 drink for women per day                           2 drinks for men per day

One drink is equal to:

  • 1 ½ ounces of liquor
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine

When to avoid drinking

  • You are pregnant
  • If you are under the age of 21
  • If your doctor has told you not to
  • If your diabetes is not in good control, wait to drink until it is in better control
  • If you have complications such as severe neuropathy
  • If you take medicines that say avoid alcohol on the medicine bottle
  • If you have high blood triglycerides
  • If you have eye disease
  • If you have had problems with alcohol abuse
  • After vigorous exercise

Be safe if you drink alcohol:

  • It is best to drink alcohol only when diabetes is under control.
  • Always eat if you drink alcohol. Munch on pretzels, popcorn, or crackers if you are drinking apart from a meal.
  • Check your blood glucose more often the day you drink and the next day to see how alcohol affects you.
  • Tell people with you that you have diabetes and teach them about signs of low blood glucose.
  • Check the size of your glasses. Most wine glasses hold much more than 5 ounces of wine. Large beer glasses are more than 12 ounces.
  • Sip slowly to make the drink last.
  • Try a wine spritzer (wine and diet club soda) or mix liquor with plenty of water or diet soda to make it last.
  • Limit yourself to 1 or 2 drinks a day
  • Wear medical identification. If you have a low blood glucose reaction, you want others to know that you have diabetes and are not drunk.
  • Alcohol can change your judgment. Be careful with medicine, food, and testing.
  • Do not drive after drinking alcohol.

Lower calorie options

  • Light beer instead of regular
  • Dry red or white wine
  • Drinks made with sugar free mixers like diet soda, light juice, or diet tonic water.
  • Skinny mixes 

Avoid high calorie drinks

  • Liqueurs – like Irish Crème
  • High calorie mixed drinks like margaritas, Pina coladas, Mudslides
  • Drinks mixed with cream
  • Full sugar soda and other sugary mixes



Sources: American Diabetes Association; Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics; Diabetes.org

One Response to A Wee Bit of Wisdom About Alcohol and your Blood Sugar

  1. OLaughlin, Karen says:

    This was very well done.
    Thank you,

    Karen O’Laughlin MSN, RNC-LRN
    Education Specialist
    St. Anthony’s Medical Center
    Phone 314-525-1280
    Cell 314-313-2639

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