Whether you are newly diagnosed with diabetes or a veteran at diabetes management, it’s important to understand how alcohol affects your blood sugar. This article provides you with an overview of what happens in the body when you drink alcohol, how alcohol affects blood sugar levels, and what you can do to make sure you are able to enjoy a drink or two without compromising your health.
Alcohol is absorbed very quickly and easily through the small intestines. Once absorbed, alcohol travels through the blood to the liver where it is broken down and turned primarily into water (which is eliminated through the urine), carbon dioxide (which is eliminated through the lungs), and fat (which is stored either in the liver or in other areas throughout the body).
Because alcohol is toxic, when you drink, almost all of the liver’s attention goes towards breaking down the alcohol. As a result, the liver is unable to release stored glucose into the blood, a process which is necessary to maintain blood sugar levels in between meals. This means that drinking puts you at risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Taking insulin or diabetes medications, such as glyburide, glimepiride, or glipizide, can further contribute to low blood sugar because they increase the amount of insulin your body produces. If you are taking these medications or insulin, you are at even greater risk of hypoglycemia because insulin’s job is to lower blood sugar. If the liver can’t balance out the effects of insulin and you aren’t eating carbohydrates that raise your blood sugar again, you may find yourself becoming hypoglycemic.
Alcohol can also potentially raise blood sugar levels. Many alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine, and cocktails all contain enough carbohydrates to raise blood sugar levels. The consumption of alcohol also increases appetite and decreases self-control. This means you are more likely to eat large quantities of high carb foods while drinking, which could lead to high blood sugar.
*NOTE: the symptoms of low blood sugar can be easily mistaken for symptoms of alcohol intoxication.
Feel free to send a message to your dietitian through iHealth Unified Care App if you have any question!