Get Help Today. (800) 516-4357

Alcohol & Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition that requires careful management, and drinking alcohol may pose serious risks. For most diabetics, drinking is not a good idea as it can affect blood sugar levels and interact with medications. However, if your blood sugar is under control and you don’t have health complications, it may be safe to drink alcohol occasionally.

Struggling with Alcohol Addiction? Get Help Now

Can alcohol and diabetes go together? It depends. Some alcoholic beverages contain high amounts of carbohydrates, which can raise your blood sugar to dangerous levels.

If you don’t drink alcohol now, don’t start. If you do drink alcohol, know how to do so safely. And if you’re drinking and can’t quit, ask your doctor about treatment programs that can help you get back on track.

The Connection Between Alcohol & Blood Sugar

Alcohol can also interfere with hypoglycemic medications, and this can be very dangerous for people with diabetes.

Alcohol directly affects blood sugar levels. Even when drinking a small amount of alcohol, diabetic individuals need to factor this into their overall food plan and consider its effects on their levels.

Excessive drinking can be especially dangerous for people with diabetes.

Diabetics may have hypoglycemic unawareness. This means that people with diabetes may not notice the warning signs of low blood sugar. This can lead to further problems and risks, such as cardiac problems, brain damage, and heart attacks.

Can People With Diabetes Drink Alcohol?

While people with diabetes can drink alcohol in small amounts, it’s very important that you stay aware of what you consume and its effects on your blood sugar.

Alcohol increases the effects of diabetes medicine, putting you at greater risk for low blood sugar. Some combinations of diabetes medicines and alcohol can create serious problems.

If you choose to drink alcohol, here are some practical tips:

  • Do not drink on an empty stomach. Eat a snack before or with your drink. 
  • Do not skip meals or use alcohol as a substitute for a meal.
  • If you use wine to cook, choose regular wine instead of cooking wine. There is less sodium.
  • If you have been drinking, confirm blood sugar levels are at least 100 to 140 milligrams per deciliter. 
  • Eat a snack before bedtime to prevent low blood sugar during sleep. This is particularly important if your regular eating schedule was thrown off due to a social engagement.

A drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol such as vodka.

If you are concerned about alcohol’s effects on your blood sugar levels, follow these tips:

  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with a glass of water. This is a natural way to stay hydrated and cut overall alcohol consumption.
  • Switch to drinks that contain less alcohol per drink. This generally also means they contain less sugar per drink.
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Food slows down how fast the alcohol is absorbed into the body.

Knowing the signs of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can help you to stay safe.

Common signs of hyperglycemia include the following:

  • Increased thirst
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Headache
  • Urinating often
  • Blurry vision

Common signs of hypoglycemia include the following:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Hunger

The American Diabetes Association says hypoglycemia is a major concern among people with diabetes who drink. The liver tends to process alcohol quickly, outpacing the efficacy of medications like insulin. You may attribute your symptoms to intoxication, worsening the problem.

If you choose to drink with diabetes, keep your medications with you and test your blood sugar regularly. If it’s too high or too low, quit drinking right away. Use a snack to bring your blood sugar up, or take your medications to lower it.

Never assume that the changes you feel are caused only by alcohol. Test your blood sugar regularly while you consume alcohol, and let the results guide you. You might be surprised at what you see.

The American Diabetes Association says that hypoglycemia can begin hours after your last drink, especially if you exercise. If you’re doing something like participating in a beer-fueled fun run, your blood sugar management could become challenging. Do your best to limit intake on these days.

The general guidelines for safe drinking are a little different for women and men. For women, if you choose to drink, have no more than one drink per day. For men, have no more than two drinks per day.

Blood Sugar Consequences of Specific Drinks

Understanding the dangers of alcohol and diabetes means digging into carbs. When you consume carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose for fuel. The more carbs you consume, the harder your pancreas must work to absorb the sugars.

Carbohydrate content in alcoholic beverages can vary widely, as this chart makes clear:

Type of DrinkAmount in a ServingCarbohydrates per Serving
Regular beer12 ounces12 grams
Guinness stout12 ounces14 grams
White wine5 ounces4 grams
Dry red wine5 ounces3 to 4 grams
Gin and tonic1.5 ounce liquor15 grams
Martini1.5 ounce liquor1 gram
Mojito1.5 ounce liquor25 grams

The Risks of Drinking With Diabetes

Alcohol can raise blood pressure, and repeatedly binge drinking can result in long-term increases in blood pressure. High blood pressure can make some of the problems experienced by diabetics worse. This can lead to kidney failure, retinopathy, and heart disease.

Most health issues are worsened by alcohol abuse, particularly issues that are already potential risks for those with diabetes. This includes eye disease, liver disease, and nerve damage in the legs or arms.

For example, diabetes already raises the risk for fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. If you combine this with chronic drinking, the risk of liver disease is even higher.

Alcohol can increase the effects of diabetes medicine and lower your blood sugar even more. If you choose to drink, keep a high-carbohydrate snack on hand. Have some glucose tablets readily available in case your blood sugar drops.

It is essential for people with diabetes to stay in control of their blood sugar. Keep this in mind if you drink in moderation. Wearing a diabetes bracelet or keeping a diabetes identification card in your wallet is a smart way to stay safe.

Are There Any Benefits of Drinking Alcohol if You Are Diabetic?

Some studies show that moderate drinking is linked to a lower risk of heart disease. However, any potential upside to moderate drinking is not generally worth it for diabetics.

Red wine is often associated with heart-healthy benefits. The benefits of red wine may be linked to compounds such as flavonoids that are also found in vegetables and herbs.

Resveratrol, a beneficial compound found in red wine, is also found in berries, grape skins, and cocoa. As these compounds are found in other dietary sources, the health benefits are not limited to wine alone. As a result, it’s generally recommended to get the benefits of resveratrol from other sources like grapes.

Can Alcohol Use Cause Diabetes?

The jury may still be out on whether moderate alcohol consumption is a risk factor for diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, a drink or two may improve insulin sensitivity.

One 2015 meta-analysis examined data from over 1.9 million people and found that moderate alcohol consumption seemed to provide protection against diabetes in women and Asian populations. However, heavy alcohol consumption raised the risk for diabetes across almost all groups studied.

Regularly drinking above the “low-risk” guidelines increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Heavy drinking can increase your risk for diabetes in the following ways:

  • It can reduce your sensitivity to insulin. 
  • It can cause pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas. 
  • It can contribute to weight gain and obesity.

While low to moderate alcohol use may potentially lower the risk of diabetes, excessive use can cause problems that potentially lead to diabetes.

How to Best Prevent Diabetes

The CDC estimates that 96 million adults in the United States don’t know that they are at risk of developing diabetes. According to the CDC, it’s common for blood sugar to be elevated above normal for quite a while before a person develops type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes is characterized by risk factors that are associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. These can include being overweight, physically inactive, and over 45 years old. Another risk factor is having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes.

Recommendations to prevent diabetes include managing stress, staying motivated, and adopting a healthy diet and exercise lifestyle. Drinking excessive alcohol can contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle, so it’s wise to cut back on drinking.

What if You Can’t Stop Drinking?

If you’d like to stop drinking alcohol, it’s important to realize that you are not alone. There are many skilled professionals who can help you find an approach that works for you and your goals. And many people have been in your shoes and achieved long-term recovery.

It’s important to work with a medical provider who can help you to safely stop drinking, and this medical supervision is even more important if you have diabetes. If you’ve been drinking heavily for a long time, it’s unsafe to simply stop drinking suddenly on your own. You need medical detox to ensure you stay safe during withdrawal.

With comprehensive care, including therapy and ongoing support, you can effectively leave alcohol abuse in your path. With a balanced lifestyle that isn’t governed by alcohol abuse, you can better manage your diabetes, helping you to live a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are the questions we often hear about alcohol and diabetes:

What amount of alcohol is safe for people with diabetes?

The American Diabetes Association says there are no universal rules for safe drinking with diabetes. Talk to your doctor about your drinking habits and create a plan together.

Should all people with diabetes avoid alcohol?

It depends. If you don’t have symptoms of alcoholism and your doctor says it’s okay, you might be capable of drinking in moderation. However, you must monitor your blood sugar and health regularly while you drink. Skipping alcoholic beverages altogether might be easier.

What type of alcohol is best for people with diabetes?

It depends. Some beverages (like white wine) have fewer carbs than others (like dark beer). But some (like a shot of vodka) have none at all. In general, alcoholic beverages that come in a premeasured container (like a can) give you the most information and control over what you consume. A mixed beverage might have more alcohol and high-sugar ingredients than you expected.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated April 25, 2024
  1. Diabetes: Alcohol in the Diet. Tufts Medical Center Community Care.
  2. Alcohol’s Overhyped Health Benefits. Tufts Medical Center.
  3. Alcohol and Diabetes. Drinkaware.
  4. Low Alcohol Drinks. Drinkaware.
  5. Drinking Alcohol and Diabetes: Do They Mix? Cleveland Clinic.
  6. Mixing Alcohol With Your Diabetes. John Hopkins Medicine.
  7. Study Finds Drinking Wine With Meals Was Associated With Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. (March 2022). American Heart Association.
  8. Alcohol & Diabetes. American Diabetes Association.
  9. Alcohol Consumption and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of More Than 1.9 Million Individuals From 38 Observational Studies. (August 2015). Diabetes Care.
  10. Manage Blood Sugar. Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  11. Liver Cirrhosis and Diabetes: Risk Factors, Pathophysiology, Clinical Implications and Management. (January 2009). World Journal of Gastroenterology.
  12. UK Alcohol Guidelines: The Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Recommendations. Drinkaware.
  13. Alcohol: The Nutrition Score. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
  14. Alcohol Use in Young Adults With Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. (November–December 2017). American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
  15. Alcohol as a Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes. (November 2009). Diabetes Care.
  16. Moderate Alcohol Consumption Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Observational Studies. (March 2005). Diabetes Care.
  17. Understanding Carbs. American Diabetes Association.
  18. Alcohol and Diabetes. UMass Chan Medical School.
  19. Hyperglycemia. (April 2023). U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  20. Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia). (December 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  21. Alcohol and Diabetes. American Diabetes Association.
Take The Next Step Now
Call Us Now Check Insurance