Alcohol presents special challenges to people with diabetes. Alcohol can affect blood sugar levels for up to 10 hours after drinking, and the effects can be unpredictable.
Alcohol is metabolized by the body in a similar way as fat and has nearly as many calories. When you figure your exchanges, one drink (with no added sugar) counts as two fat exchanges. This amount of calories can make your blood sugar rise.
But diabetics who are use insulin or one of many common blood sugar lowering medications like glyburide, glipizide or meglitinide- drugs that make the your body create more insulin and sensitize your cells to the effects of insulin- can find themselves with sudden low blood sugars. If you have diabetes and want to drink alcohol, there are certain precautions you should take.
First, consult your doctor. Because alcohol can raise both blood pressure and triglycerides, you need to make sure these levels are under control. If your doctor gives their blessing for you to drink alcohol, these suggestions can help you stay healthy:
*Check your blood sugar frequently. Check it before having a drink, monitor it while you are drinking, and check afterward. Be especially sure to check before going to sleep- if it’s not at least in the range of 100 to 140 mb/dls, eat something before sleeping. A low blood sugar while asleep can be deadly.
*Do not drink on an empty stomach- alcohol will absorb faster on an empty stomach. Have a meal or a healthy snack while you are eating.
*Binge drinking is more dangerous than having a regular drink more often. It is recommended that men have no more than 2 drinks a day and women only 1. A drink is defined as a 12 oz beer, 5 oz glass of wine, or 1½ oz distilled spirits (vodka, whiskey, gin, etc.)
*Make sure your drinking companions know you have diabetes and what the symptoms of low blood sugar are. Carry a fast acting source of sugar-hard candy or glucose tablets- and make sure they know to give it to you if needed.
*Do no exercise when drinking alcohol. Alcohol has an additive effect on the blood sugar lowering effect of exercise.
*Drink slowly. Savor the drink rather than gulping.
*Don’t drink alcohol to quench your thirst. Use a calorie free drink for this: water or sparkling water, tea, coffee or diet soda.
*Avoid drinks with excess sugar. Drink dry wines or light beers; if you like mixed drinks, use non-caloric mixers like diet sodas, sparkling water or tonic water. Make your own wine spritzers by adding sparkling water.
*Always wear a Medic-alert bracelet when drinking. The symptoms of low blood sugar are very much like those of drunkenness- slurring of speech, dizziness, disorientation- and people with hypoglycemia have been assumed to be drunk and left to sleep it off or taken to jail, with their blood sugars going even lower as a result. This is even more apt to happen with the smell of alcohol on your breath.
The diabetic also has to think about the fact that alcohol lowers one’s resolve and ability to think logically. It makes it harder to stick to one’s meal plan, harder to remember to check one’s blood sugars, harder to not have ‘˜just one more’. It’s important for a diabetic to make a plan and stick to it if they’re going to drink.