Alcohol and Diabetes: Can Alcohol Cause Diabetes?

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Editorial Policy

Last Updated - 05/08/2024

View our editorial policy
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling (614) 362-1686 now.

Updated 05/08/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Diabetes mellitus is a group of metabolic disorders characterized by high blood sugar levels, resulting from inadequate insulin production or improper response to insulin. It requires management through lifestyle changes, blood sugar monitoring, and sometimes medication or insulin therapy.
  • There are several types of diabetes, including type 1, type 2, gestational diabetes, and prediabetes. Each type has its own causes and management strategies, emphasizing the importance of personalized treatment approaches.
  • Alcohol consumption can affect blood sugar levels, leading to both low and high blood sugar episodes. Individuals with diabetes should monitor their alcohol intake and be cautious, especially if they are taking medications that can cause hypoglycemia.
  • Alcohol consumption can exacerbate complications of diabetes, such as diabetic ketoacidosis, changes in lipid metabolism, heart disease, retinopathy, and neuropathy. Managing alcohol intake is crucial for individuals with diabetes to reduce these risks.
  • The American Diabetes Association recommends moderation in alcohol consumption for individuals with diabetes. Consulting with healthcare providers, monitoring blood sugar levels, choosing low-carbohydrate options, and drinking with food are essential for safe alcohol consumption.
  • Recent updates in diabetes care emphasize a person-centered approach, early monitoring for type 1 diabetes, and the use of diabetes technology. Weight management is also highlighted for type 2 diabetes treatment.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a group of metabolic disorders characterized by high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period. This condition arises either due to the pancreas not producing enough insulin or the body’s cells not responding properly to the insulin produced. 

Diagnosis of diabetes can be made through various tests, including A1C, which measures average blood sugar levels over several months, and glucose tests, which measure blood sugar at a single point in time. Management typically involves a combination of lifestyle changes, monitoring blood sugar levels, and medications or insulin therapy.

Recent updates in the standards of care emphasize person-centered approaches, early monitoring for Type 1 diabetes, and the adoption of diabetes technology to achieve glycemic goals. The American Diabetes Association also highlights the importance of weight management in treating Type 2 diabetes and the role of health care professionals in applying diabetes technology effectively.

Types of Diabetes

There are a few different types of diabetes, each with distinct causes and management strategies.

  • In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. As a result, the body is unable to produce enough insulin, a hormone that helps the cells in your body absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood and requires daily insulin injections.
  • Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is characterized by the body’s inability to effectively use insulin, known as insulin resistance, or when the body is not producing enough insulin. This type of diabetes is often linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, and poor diet. It is more common in adults, although it is increasingly being seen in children and adolescents.
  • Gestational diabetes affects some women during pregnancy and usually resolves after the baby’s birth. However, it can increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. It can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes if not managed properly.

How Alcohol Affects Blood Sugar

Many people with diabetes may wonder how alcohol consumption affects their blood sugar levels. The truth is that alcohol can have different effects on blood sugar depending on various factors, such as the amount consumed, the type of alcohol, and whether it is consumed with food.

When it comes to managing blood sugar levels, it is important for people with diabetes to understand how alcohol can affect their condition.

Alcohol and Low Blood Sugar

Consuming alcohol, especially in large quantities, can cause a drop in blood sugar levels. This may lead to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This is because alcohol can interfere with the liver’s ability to release stored glucose into the bloodstream, which is necessary to maintain stable blood sugar levels.

For individuals taking insulin or certain oral medications that can cause hypoglycemia, it is crucial to be cautious while drinking alcohol. It is recommended to monitor blood sugar levels closely and consume alcohol alongside food to help prevent low blood sugar episodes.

Alcohol and High Blood Sugar

Although alcohol itself may not significantly raise blood sugar levels, the mixers and additives commonly found in alcoholic beverages can be high in sugar and lead to spikes in blood sugar levels. Sweetened cocktails, fruity mixed drinks, and sugar-infused liqueurs are examples of beverages that can contribute to high blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes. These sugary drinks can quickly increase blood glucose levels and make it more difficult for the body to regulate them.

Effects of Alcohol Use on Diabetes

Alcohol consumption can have various effects on individuals with diabetes, impacting their blood sugar levels and overall health. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) highlights the importance of managing alcohol intake for people with diabetes, noting the risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels as a significant concern. ADA’s guidelines emphasize moderation and understanding individual risks when consuming alcohol.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a life-threatening condition that can occur in people with diabetes, including those who consume alcohol. DKA is more common in individuals with type 1 diabetes, but it can also occur in those with type 2 diabetes under certain circumstances.

When blood sugar levels are consistently high, the body begins to break down fat for energy instead of glucose. This produces ketones, which are acidic byproducts that can build up in the blood and may lead to a condition called ketoacidosis. Alcohol consumption can exacerbate this process.

When alcohol is consumed, the body prioritizes breaking down and metabolizing alcohol over regulating blood sugar levels. This can lead to increased ketone production and a further imbalance in blood sugar control.

Furthermore, alcohol can lead to dehydration by increasing urine production, which can compound the effects of elevated blood sugar levels. Dehydration can make it even more difficult for the body to process glucose effectively and can worsen the symptoms of DKA.

Changes in Lipid Metabolism

Alcohol consumption can also impact lipid metabolism in individuals with diabetes. Lipids are a type of fat that circulates in the blood and plays a role in energy storage and hormone production. When alcohol is consumed, the liver prioritizes metabolizing alcohol over processing lipids. As a result, the breakdown of lipids is slowed down, leading to an increase in triglyceride levels.

Heart Disease

High levels of triglycerides are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Individuals with diabetes already have a higher risk of developing heart disease, and alcohol consumption can further increase this risk.

Alcohol also affects blood pressure, and high blood pressure is another significant risk factor for heart disease. Regular alcohol consumption can raise blood pressure levels, which can increase the strain on the heart and lead to cardiovascular problems.


Retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. It is a leading cause of vision loss among individuals with diabetes.

Alcohol consumption can worsen retinopathy by increasing blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in the retina, leading to leakage or blockage of blood vessels. This can cause vision problems such as blurry vision, floaters, and even blindness.


Neuropathy is another diabetic complication that can be exacerbated by alcohol consumption. Neuropathy refers to damage or dysfunction of the nerves, usually in the peripheral nervous system. It commonly affects the hands and feet, causing symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and pain.

Alcohol can worsen neuropathy by several mechanisms. For one, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to nutrient deficiencies, such as deficiencies in B vitamins, which are essential for nerve health. These deficiencies can contribute to nerve damage and worsen symptoms of neuropathy.

Alcohol can also directly damage nerves and interfere with their normal function. It can cause inflammation and impair the ability of nerves to transmit signals properly. This can lead to increased pain and discomfort in individuals with neuropathy.

Furthermore, alcohol can impair balance and coordination, making falls and injuries more likely in individuals with neuropathy. This can further exacerbate the nerve damage and hinder the healing process.

Guidelines for Alcohol Consumption in Diabetes Management

For individuals living with diabetes, the consumption of alcohol requires careful consideration due to the potential impact on blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) provides comprehensive guidelines and evidence-based recommendations for managing diabetes, which include advice on alcohol consumption. While the ADA’s updates to the Standards of Care in Diabetes—2024 do not specifically detail drinking guidelines, they prioritize a person-centered approach to diabetes management, including lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption.

To safely manage alcohol consumption, individuals with diabetes should:

  • Consult with your healthcare provider: Before incorporating alcohol into your diabetes management plan, it is essential to consult with your healthcare provider. They can provide personalized advice based on your individual health status and medication regimen.
  • Monitor your blood sugar levels: It is crucial to monitor your blood sugar levels before, during, and after consuming alcohol. This can help you determine how alcohol affects your blood sugar and make necessary adjustments to prevent both low and high blood sugar levels.
  • Limit your alcohol intake: If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Limit your intake to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Avoid binge drinking, as it can significantly impact your blood sugar levels.
  • Choose low-carbohydrate options: Opt for low-carbohydrate alcoholic beverages, such as light beer, dry wines, or spirits mixed with sugar-free mixers. This can help minimize the impact of alcohol on your blood sugar levels.
  • Drink with food: To reduce the risk of hypoglycemia, always consume alcohol with food. Eating a balanced meal before or while drinking can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent dangerous fluctuations.
  • Stay hydrated: Make sure to drink plenty of water alongside alcohol to stay hydrated. Dehydration can worsen the effects of alcohol on your blood sugar levels and overall health.
  • Be mindful of calorie intake: Alcohol is high in calories, which can contribute to weight gain. If weight management is a concern for you, consider the calorie content of your drinks and adjust your overall calorie intake accordingly.

By following these recommendations, individuals with diabetes can enjoy alcohol in a safe and controlled manner while minimizing the potential risks to their health and blood sugar levels. Remember to always prioritize your health and well-being when making decisions about alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment at The Recovery Village Columbus

The Recovery Village Columbus offers a multi-faceted approach to support individuals struggling with alcohol addiction and diabetes. As an accredited adult rehab facility, it provides a continuum of care through various treatment levels, including medical detox, residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient care. The facility recognizes the unique challenges posed by co-occurring conditions such as diabetes and strives to deliver evidence-based, compassionate care tailored to these complex needs.

Under the guidance of a physician-led team, clients undergo a comprehensive treatment plan that may include medical assistance during withdrawal to prevent dangerous symptoms or relapse. The center’s dual diagnosis program ensures that both substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions are addressed simultaneously, which is crucial for individuals with diabetes, where alcohol can have varying impacts on blood sugar levels.

To support physical well-being and mental health during recovery, The Recovery Village Columbus boasts a range of amenities, including two fully equipped gyms, sports courts, an art studio, and a computer lab. This holistic approach to rehabilitation encourages a balanced lifestyle, which is particularly beneficial for those managing diabetes. The Recovery Village Columbus creates a supportive environment that empowers patients to take control of their health, offering them the tools and resources necessary for a successful recovery journey. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to take the first step toward living an alcohol-free life.

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol and Diabetes

  • Is it okay for people with diabetes to drink alcohol?

    People with diabetes can drink alcohol in limited quantities, but it’s essential to do so with caution and awareness of how alcohol can affect blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association suggests that men with diabetes who drink should limit their intake to two servings or less per day and women to one serving or less. Always check with a healthcare provider to ensure that any alcohol consumption is safe based on individual health conditions.

  • What are the risks of drinking alcohol with diabetes?

    Drinking alcohol can pose several risks for people with diabetes. Alcohol can cause blood sugar levels to either rise or fall, depending on the amount consumed and if food is eaten at the same time. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can occur up to 24 hours after drinking because alcohol impairs the liver’s ability to release glucose. Additionally, alcoholic beverages can be high in calories, leading to weight gain—a concern for those managing diabetes.

  • Are there benefits to drinking alcohol with diabetes?

    Limited alcohol consumption has been linked to some health benefits, such as a potential reduction in the risk of heart disease and improved insulin sensitivity. However, these benefits must be weighed against the risks, especially since controlling blood sugar is critical for those with diabetes. Anyone with diabetes considering drinking alcohol should first consult with their healthcare provider to understand how alcohol might affect their specific health needs.

  • How many carbs are in alcohol?

    The carbohydrate content in alcoholic beverages can vary significantly. Beers and sweet wines can contain a high amount of carbs, while spirits like vodka, rum, and whiskey contain none, though mixers used with them often contain sugar and carbs. For example, a 12-ounce beer can have about 10 to 20 grams of carbs, a 5-ounce glass of medium-sweet wine has approximately 5 to 10 grams, and mixed drinks can range significantly depending on the ingredients. It’s important for those with diabetes to consider these factors when consuming alcohol to manage their carb intake effectively.


Get your life back

Recovery is possible. Begin your journey today

Call Us Now Admissions Check Insurance

What To Expect

When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.