When you’re living with a health problem, a question often arises: “Can I drink alcohol?”
People living with diabetes can drink alcohol if they take certain precautions. The most important: No alcohol on an empty stomach!
Your body and alcohol
When alcohol is consumed, the liver is responsible for eliminating it. To do so, it’s putting on hold other tasks such as adjusting blood sugar levels. This affects blood sugar control. It’s important to monitor blood sugar levels more often when drinking alcohol.
Alcohol can raise blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) if the drink contains a lot of carbohydrates.
Alcohol can also lower blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), because it prevents the liver from producing sugar when food doesn’t provide enough. This phenomenon is likely to occur if alcohol is consumed on its own, as an aperitif, for example. People with diabetes taking insulin or secretagogues drugs* are particularly at risk of hypoglycemia.
* Insulin secretagogues: gliclazide (Diamicron® and Diamicron MR®), glimepiride (Amaryl®), glyburide (Diabeta®), repaglinide (GlucoNorm®).
- Hypoglycemia can even occur up to 24 hours later!
- Glucagon cannot correct hypoglycemia caused by excessive alcohol intake.
- The symptoms of hypoglycemia can resemble those of drunkenness.
How much alcohol can I drink?
Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Diabetes in Canada recommends that people with diabetes limit their consumption of alcohol based on the same recommendation for the general public:
- A maximum of 2 alcoholic drinks per day
- Less than 10 alcoholic drinks per week
- A maximum of 3 drinks per day
- Less than 15 alcoholic drinks per week
It is also recommended not to drink every day.
One alcoholic drink is the equivalent of:
- 340 mL (12 oz.) of beer (5% alcohol)
- 140 mL (5 oz.) of wine vin (red or white) at 12% alcohol
- 85 mL (3 oz.) of fortified wine (ex.: port) at 20% alcohol
- 45 mL (1.5 oz.) of spirits at 40% alcohol
If you suffer from high blood pressure, have a high triglyceride level in your blood, have liver or neurological problems, it would be better to limit your consumption of alcohol.
When in doubt, consult your physician to determine what alcohol consumption limits you, personally, should not exceed.
Hypoglycemia: Some prevention tips for people at risk
- Drink alcohol slowly;
- Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach, and carry extra sugar with you;
- Inform your friends that the symptoms of hypoglycemia can resemble those of drunkenness, and what to do in the event of a problem;
- Test your blood sugar more often. Don’t forget to do it before goind to bed;
- Have an extra snack before bed, as needed, to prevent hypoglycemia;
- Make sure to get up at your usual time for breakfast the day after a night of drinking;
- Avoid alcohol before, during and after physical activities.
Carbohydrate content of common alcoholic beverages
|Type of drink||Quantity|
|Beer (5% alcohol)||340 mL (12 oz)||12||145|
|Light beer (4% alcohol)||340 mL (12 oz)||5||100|
|Non-alcoholic beer (0.5% alcohol)||340 mL (12 oz)||12-18||60-85|
|Cognac||45 mL (1,5 oz)||0||115|
|Cherry Brandy||45 mL (1,5 oz)||15||125|
|Gin, rhum, rye, scotch, vodka, whisky||45 mL (1,5 oz)||0||100|
|Dry white wine (12% alcohol)||140 mL (5 oz)||1||95|
|Sparkling wine, champagne||140 mL (5 oz)||2||105|
|Dry red wine (12% alcohol)||140 mL (5 oz)||2||100|
|Rosé wine||140 mL (5 oz)||2||100|
|Port||85 mL (3 oz)||10||130|
Research and writing: Diabetes Québec’s team of health professionals
Adapted from: Savoie Nathalie, Dietitian. (Summer 1999). “Les «drinks» de l’été, Plein Soleil, Diabetes Québec, p. 15-16