Living with Type 2 Diabetes in an Alcohol-centric Culture: Simple Guidelines to Follow for Safely Balancing Cocktail Hour and Diabetes

By: Amanda Rugg, LWDI Intern

Being able to enjoy alcoholic beverages while managing diabetes often seems intimidating at first. These simple tips will guide you to safely enjoying your favorite diabetic-friendly cocktail just in time for the holiday season! 

Alcohol & Diabetes: 

Understanding Main Factors Contributing to Blood Glucose Levels:

The effects of drinking alcohol are important to consider for diabetes. Drinking alcohol alters liver function and impacts blood sugar levels. 

The main functions of the liver include producing and releasing blood sugar, storing energy, and eliminating toxic substances.1 After drinking alcohol, it is recognized as a poisonous substance. The liver is only able to perform one task at a time and too much alcohol can block production and release of glucose from the liver, causing your blood sugar levels to drop.1,2,3

Type 2 Diabetes Medication Interactions with Alcohol:

If combined with enough alcohol, the effects of diabetes medications including oral medication (sulfonylureas. meglitinides) and insulin could often result in hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.2,3,4

How to Drink: 

Tips to follow when preparing to enjoy cocktail hour safely with diabetes that help you drink smarter-not harder:

  • Have your blood sugar under control 
  • Inform your friends that you have diabetes 
  • Have some form of Diabetes identification with you 
  • Drink with a meal or carbohydrate containing snack
  • Drink slowly 
  • Continuously monitor your glucose levels: Before, during, and after the meal 
  • Come prepared! Pack a snack in case of low blood sugar4:
    • granola bars with protein, nuts, dried fruit 

How Much to Drink?

According to the American Diabetes Association’s recommendation for adults with diabetes: 

  • Women should have no more than 1 drink per day 
  • Men should have no more than 2 drinks per day4
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Ordering from the Drink Menu: 

Cocktail Favorites:

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1. He X, Rebholz CM, Daya N, Lazo M, Selvin E. Alcohol consumption and incident diabetes: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. Diabetologia. 2019 May;62(5):770-778. 

2. Steiner JL, Crowell KT, Lang CH. Impact of Alcohol on Glycemic Control and Insulin Action. Biomolecules. 2015;5(4):2223-2246.

3. Cryer PE. Glycemic goals in diabetes: trade-off between glycemic control and iatrogenic hypoglycemia. Diabetes. 2017;63(7):2188-2195.

4.Introduction: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes-2020. Diabetes Care. 2020 Jan;43(Suppl 1):S1-S2. 

5. Diabetes and Alcohol. Diabetes Teaching Center at the University of California website. Accessed September 25, 2020.

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