Diabetes And Alcohol

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disorder that affects the body’s ability to regulate glucose within the blood. Glucose is a sugar that functions as the body’s main energy source. When the body cells are unable to adequately take up glucose for energy, it leads to glucose buildup within the blood. There are distinct forms of diabetes that each impact the body’s use of glucose in different ways, and each form can lead to excessive levels of glucose within the blood.1,2 

Type I and Type II diabetes are two common forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas (Islets of Langerhans) are destroyed by the body itself.2 Insulin is very important as it is involved in the regulation of blood glucose levels. When the Islets of Langerhans are destroyed, the body does not have enough insulin to regulate blood glucose levels. As a result, individuals with type I diabetes must take insulin daily. Type I diabetes is typically diagnosed during childhood.  

Type II diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or the body cells are unable to respond to insulin. Type II diabetes is more common in adults and the elderly as opposed to young people.


Type I and Type II diabetes each have their own distinctive symptoms while also having some shared ones. These include:

Increased urge to urinate

A common symptom of diabetes is frequent peeing. When diabetes is undiagnosed and/or untreated, the kidneys are unable to handle the excessive glucose within the blood. Instead, the excess glucose is excreted in the urine leading to frequent urination.3

Excess Thirst

This is yet another major symptom reported by individuals with diabetes. It usually is experienced in combination with an increased need to urinate due to the fact that excess glucose is excreted in the urine.  Individuals with diabetes often report excess thirst that is not satiated even with frequent intake of water.3 


Individuals with diabetes may also have increased fatigue. Fatigue is caused by the inability of the cells to uptake and use glucose for energy. Excess thirst and the increased need to urinate also contribute to the overall feeling of fatigue in individuals with untreated and/or undiagnosed diabetes.3 

Blurry vision

Blurred vision results from the high glucose levels that occur due to cells being unable to utilise glucose. Elevated blood glucose levels cause fluid to be drawn away from body tissues, most notably the lenses of the eye.3 The loss of fluid from the eye lenses can cause blurred vision. 

Effects of alcohol on diabetes

Alcohol alters blood sugar levels

Due to its constituents, alcohol produces unique effects on individuals with diabetes. When individuals with diabetes consume alcohol, they are at risk of hypoglycemia (a bodily state when blood glucose levels are low). Consumption of alcohol along with diabetes medications such as insulin can cause blood glucose levels to drop.4 Common symptoms of hypoglycemia include trembling, increased heart rate, nausea, and headaches.5 In large quantities, alcohol causes a decrease in blood glucose levels. However, if individuals with diabetes take precautions, such as having blood glucose tablets and eating frequent meals, they can prevent hypoglycemic conditions as a result of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol interrupts the liver’s regular jobs

Individuals with diabetes experience hypoglycemia following alcohol consumption due to the impeded functioning of the liver.4 The liver’s function is breaking down alcohol, medications, and their associated constituents within the body to make them non-toxic. Without proper functioning of the liver, the kidney would not be able to flush out alcohol from the body. The liver also has a role in regulating glucose levels through the storage of carbohydrates from food and release of these carbohydrates following meals and during sleep.4 

The liver is unable to both regulate blood glucose levels and remove the toxins from alcoholic beverages simultaneously, which causes problems for individuals with diabetes. The liver prioritises detoxifying alcohol than regulating glucose levels. As a result, glucose levels drop following alcohol consumption as the liver is unable to release carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose levels.4

Can I have an occasional drink if I have diabetes?

If you have diabetes, it’s fine to have an occasional drink as long as you take certain precautions before, during, and following a drink. Before drinking, make sure to eat frequent meals and monitor blood glucose levels. It is also important to have a low glucose medication with you such as glucose tablets. It is also advised to have a trusted person with you who can recognise your specific signs of low blood glucose levels. It is  vital to note that glucagon, a low blood glucose medication, does not work when alcohol is in the body. While drinking, try to eat foods rich in carbohydrates to supplement the usual functioning of the liver. It is also advised to drink slowly to prevent a sudden dip in blood glucose levels.6 After drinking, it is advised to continue to monitor your blood glucose levels.

There is no harm in having a drink once in a while, provided the quantity is moderate. The recommended alcohol intake is described as one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. It is also advised to avoid alcoholic drinks high in sugars due to their additional adverse effects on blood glucose levels.4

Be extra careful with beer and cocktails

Beer and cocktails require further considerations when being consumed by individuals with diabetes. Beer, compared to wine and other alcoholic beverages, is high in carbohydrates. A standard serving size of beer (12 fl. oz) contains 12 grams of carbohydrates compared to the standard serving size of wine having 1-4 grams of carbohydrates.6 As a result, the carbohydrates in the beer can potentially cause glucose spikes in individuals with diabetes. It is also advised to  be careful with consumption of cocktails as they can also be high in carbohydrates due to their added sugar through sodas and juices. The average standard size (8 fl. oz) of cocktails have an average of at least 20g of carbohydrates.6 As a result, cocktails can also cause blood glucose spikes. 

If you’re worried about your alcohol intake

If you’re worried about managing your intake of alcohol with diabetes, there are several online resources that may help. These include:

  • NHS: The NHS website has information on how to manage the consumption of alcohol while having diabetes through dos and don’ts.7
  • Diabetes.ca: Diabetes.ca has a questionnaire, nutritional value of common alcoholic drinks, and tips and tricks on how to manage alcohol intake for individuals with diabetes.8
  • NHS Alcohol Support: The NHS has an informative article full of resources and tips on managing alcohol misuse and organisations that you can reach out to in the UK.  


Diabetes is a condition in which the body is unable to regulate glucose levels throughout the body. Although the condition has several distinct forms, all forms result in excess glucose levels circulating within the body. Diabetes has several distinct symptoms such as increased urination, excess thirst, blurred vision, and fatigue. Individuals with diabetes have to be extra careful when consuming alcohol, as alcohol temporarily impairs the liver’s ability to regulate glucose levels as it instead detoxifies alcohol. Individuals with diabetes can have occasional drinks of alcohol as long as it is done in moderation. 


  1. Mayo Clinic. Diabetes [internet]. 2022 August 09 [cited 2022 August 28]. Available from:https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371444
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Diabetes: An Overview [internet]. 2021 March 28 [cited 2022 August 28]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7104-diabetes-mellitus-an-overview
  3. Mayo Clinic. Diabetes symptoms: When diabetes symptoms are a concern [internet].  2021 June 03 [cited 2022 August 28]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-symptoms/art-20044248
  4. American Diabetes Association. Alcohol & Diabetes [internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 August 28]. Available from: https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/alcohol-diabetes
  5. Cleveland Clinic. Hypoglycemia [internet]. 2021 March 25 [cited 2022 August 28]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11647-hypoglycemia-low-blood-sugar
  6. Government of Ontario. Alcohol and Diabetes [internet]. 2013 December 25 [cited 2022 August 28]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/public/programs/diabetes/docs/diabetes_factsheets/English/alcohol_diabetes_310314en.pdf
  7. NHS. Type 1 Diabetes-Alcohol and Drugs [internet]. 2021 August 24 [cited 2022 August 28]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-1-diabetes/living-with-type-1-diabetes/alcohol-and-drugs/
  8. The Canadian Diabetes Association. Alcohol and Diabetes [internet]. 2018 [cited 2022 August 28]. Available from: https://www.diabetes.ca/DiabetesCanadaWebsite/media/Managing-My-Diabetes/Tools.pdf
  9. NHS. Alcohol Support [internet]. 2019 November 6 [cited 2022 August 28]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-advice/alcohol-support/

Brianna Jacobs

Bachelor of Science - BS, Biomedical Sciences, General, University of Birmingham, England
Brianna is a Second Year Biomedical Science Student who experienced Medical Writing Intern.

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