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How Does Alcohol Affect Blood Sugar?

Complications with alcohol and blood sugar are common. They can even occur when people do not realize it. Alcohol can indirectly impact people with diabetes, making it crucial that people with diabetes implement strategies to keep safe while consuming alcohol. 

What is Blood Sugar?

Blood sugar, or blood glucose, refers to sugar that is transported to the cells through the bloodstream. Blood sugar readings refer to the concentration of sugar within your blood at a given time. Sugar comes from the food we eat, and it’s regulated by systems in the body. A well-working system regulates blood sugar levels, so they do not go too low or too high. 

Balanced or healthy blood sugar is called homeostasis. Throughout the day, it is not uncommon for blood sugar levels to vary. This is because blood sugar levels often depend on what and when you eat. When you eat, your body releases a hormone called insulin. 

After eating, your blood sugar levels go up before settling back down. People with diabetes, though, have trouble managing blood sugar levels. Fortunately, most forms of diabetes can be specially managed with insulin. 

Constant high blood pressure is called hyperglycemia. This can happen to people who do not have control over their diabetes. If someone with diabetes uses too much of their medication, they may experience below-normal blood sugar, called hypoglycemia. 

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a long-term health condition that affects the system in which the body turns food into energy. When the body digests food, it turns sugar into usable energy. An important part of this process is a hormone called insulin. The pancreas is responsible for making insulin, which is how glucose gets into our body’s cells. Diabetes is manageable, but if not monitored, it can lead to serious health consequences. 

People with diabetes either do not make sufficient amounts of insulin, or their bodies can’t use insulin the right way. Either way, their body’s cells are starved of energy, causing a glucose build-up and a rise in blood sugar.

Diabetes is one of the top causes of death in America. It can also lead to other health consequences, including cardiovascular disease, blindness, and kidney failure. 

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is typically genetic and not preventable. It’s also caused by an autoimmune reaction that stops the body from making insulin in some circumstances. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed early in life. People with type 1 diabetes take insulin every day to survive. The effect of alcohol on diabetes is dangerous. Therefore, many people with type 1 diabetes avoid alcohol use altogether. 

Type 2 Diabetes 

Over 90% of people with diabetes have type 2. Type 2 usually develops over many years and is most common in overweight and not physically active people. Type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented by having a healthy lifestyle and eating healthy food. Many people who develop type 2 diabetes do not experience any symptoms, so it is important to get your blood sugar tested if you are at risk. 

Alcohol and Blood Sugar

That being said, we can take a look at some important questions: What is the effect of alcohol on diabetes? Does alcohol lower blood sugar? 

How Does Alcohol Lower and Raise Blood Sugar?

Alcohol and blood sugar are important factors to consider when consuming alcohol. This is because the liver plays a significant role in regulating blood sugar levels. Becoming familiar with the liver’s function can help you understand the effect of alcohol on diabetes and the effect of alcohol and blood sugar in general. 

Effect of Alcohol on Diabetes

Alcohol can impair the function of the liver, causing it not to release enough glycogen. When you drink, the liver’s ability to release glucose into the bloodstream is affected. This can cause adverse effects since the liver needs to release glycogen to keep blood glucose levels from dropping. If you have diabetes, you may have a higher chance of experiencing hypoglycemia when consuming alcohol. 

When it comes to alcohol and blood sugar, drinking alcohol causes an initial spike, followed by a dangerous decrease. This is often the case because alcohol is high in sugar, which causes the initial spike. Be careful when medicating high blood sugar levels due to alcohol consumption. It is not uncommon for levels to drop suddenly, causing an episode of hypoglycemia. 

For those with diabetes, drinking alcohol increases the risk of both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. Be careful when combining alcohol and blood pressure medication, as most medicines for diabetes are not compatible with drinking alcohol. If you have diabetes and alcohol and blood sugar seem overwhelming, there are steps you can take to stay as safe as possible. 

First off, check your levels before and after drinking. Also, it is crucial to check your levels before going to bed to be sure you are not at risk of hypoglycemia while asleep. 

ADA on Alcohol and Blood Sugar

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has guidelines on alcohol and blood sugar and how it affects those with diabetes. Recommendations from the ADA include: 

  • In terms of alcohol and blood sugar, women should drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Men should limit themselves to two alcoholic beverages per day.
  • People with diabetes should completely avoid alcohol when blood sugar levels are low or if on an empty stomach. 
  • If you have diabetes, you should not count the calories of an alcoholic beverage as a carb choice in your meal plan. 
  • Heavy craft beers and other specific types of alcoholic drinks tend to be more detrimental for people with diabetes. 

According to the ADA, it is essential for those with diabetes to be aware of labels and serving sizes when consuming alcohol. This is because sugar and carb content varies in every alcohol, so be mindful of what you consume to be as safe as possible. 

Alcohol and Blood Sugar When You Don’t Have Diabetes

Many people consume alcohol without an understanding of what they are actually drinking. Though drinking does not typically lead to diabetes, some key ways alcohol and blood sugar interact include: 

  • Alcohol is high in calories and sugar, which can raise concerns for the development of type 2 diabetes. As mentioned, developing diabetes from moderate drinking is not likely, but drinking excessively over time can lead to several health consequences. 
  • While monitoring diet, it is important to factor in calories and sugar from drinking alcohol.
  • People who drink excessively but do not have diabetes can experience low blood sugar since alcohol increases insulin secretion. 

How Long Does Alcohol Lower Blood Sugar?

alcohol and blood sugar

Whenever it is in your body, alcohol is affecting your blood sugar. Upon consuming alcohol, you will experience an initial increase in blood sugar. This is occurring as the sugar from alcohol enters your blood. After all of the sugar has been absorbed, blood sugar levels begin to decrease. This process typically takes one to two hours.

Why Does Alcohol Lower Blood Sugar? 

The way that alcohol inhibits the liver’s standard function of releasing glucose sets the stage for a drop in blood sugar. Following alcohol consumption, the body begins processing sugar at a faster rate, which leads to the spike in sugar being metabolized below normal levels. These two factors alone can cause a significant drop in blood pressure, usually following the initial spike after consumption. 

After absorbing the sugar from alcohol, the body will begin to use the sugar. This results in a decrease in blood pressure as the liver stops the release of more sugar. During this process, blood sugar levels are artificially low since alcohol keeps the liver from functioning normally. After about 12 hours, most of the alcohol is eliminated, and the liver begins to function normally, releasing sugar.  

In most cases, mild to moderate amounts of alcohol can increase blood sugar. Drinking excessively will decrease the level, though, sometimes causing it to drop extremely low. This would be extremely dangerous for people with type 1 diabetes. 

Alcohol and Blood Sugar: Does Quitting Help?

Quitting drinking will result in a more typical blood glucose level. After a short period, blood sugar levels will stabilize, and you will experience several positive health changes. One way that the body eliminates excess sugar is by turning it into fat. When you hear the term “beer belly,” it typically refers to a type of obesity that occurs from drinking alcohol, beer specifically.  

The Relationship Between Diabetes, Alcohol, and Blood Sugar

There is continued debate on whether drinking alcohol moderately can increase the risk for diabetes. However, studies and evidence show that alcohol use does increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is because alcohol consumption can:

  • Cause an increase in weight, a significant risk factor for diabetes
  • Cause damage to the pancreas over time, which is where insulin is made
  • Lower the body’s sensitivity to insulin
  • Cause damage to the liver, which affects its ability to regulate blood sugar levels

Moderating alcohol use is the best way to avoid alcohol-related issues. The best way for people to avoid potential issues involving alcohol and blood sugar is to avoid alcohol use altogether.

Get Help at Nashville Recovery Center

If you have issues with alcohol and blood sugar, it is crucial you get help immediately. The effect of alcohol on diabetes can be extremely dangerous. At Nashville Recovery Center, we aim to treat any and everyone. If you have diabetes and an addiction issue, we can help. Please call us today for more information.