Skip to main content

Alcohol and Blood Sugar: The Effects of Alcohol

The fact that alcohol is full of empty calories and has no nutritional value is not news to anyone. What a lot of people don’t think about, however, is that alcoholic beverages can also be full of sugar. In addition, alcohol can negatively affect blood sugar levels, which may put heavy drinkers at risk for alcohol-related diabetes.

How Does Alcohol Affect Blood Sugar Levels?

It’s not just the high sugar content of alcohol that can damage you; excessive drinking has been proven to have a negative effect on blood sugar, as well. When you drink alcohol, your body treats it as a toxin and puts all of its energy into getting rid of it. Since the liver is busy dealing with the alcohol you just drank and absorbing all of the sugar from the alcohol that it can, it has to stop managing your blood sugar levels.

As the liver inhibits the release of more sugar, your blood sugar levels drop and your body stops digesting and processing any food you’ve eaten. In fact, alcohol can affect your blood sugar for many hours.

Alcohol and Blood Sugar

A person’s general health and well-being play a substantial role in how their body responds to alcohol. Because consuming alcohol interferes with blood sugar, people who drink alcohol can wipe out their energy stores in a few hours. After a while, excessive alcohol use can lower the effectiveness of insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels. Frequently, people with alcoholic liver disease also have glucose intolerance or diabetes. 

Effects of Alcohol

The following are a few ways alcohol can affect blood sugar control and other bodily functions:

  • Wine and beer, which both typically have a high amount of sugar, contain carbohydrates and could raise blood sugar.
  • Alcohol triggers your appetite, which can cause you to overeat. This could then affect your blood sugar control.
  • Drinks that contain alcohol tend to have a lot of calories, making it harder to lose excess weight.
  • Alcohol can affect your judgment or self-control, which can cause you to make poor food choices.
  • It can interfere with the helpful effects of oral diabetes medications or insulin.
  • Alcohol can increase triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are the main elements of body fat in humans.
  • This substance may increase your blood pressure.
  • Alcohol may cause skin reddening, nausea, slurred speech, and increased heart rate.

What Is Blood Sugar?

Blood sugar, also called glucose, is the main sugar found in your bloodstream. Glucose comes from the food you eat and is the main source of your body’s energy. Between meals and while you sleep, your liver makes new glucose. This sugar is then sent into your blood. 

Glucose is carried by your blood to all of your body’s cells to be used for energy. There, it helps to slow down or prevent a low blood sugar reaction. Drinking alcohol interrupts this process, including the production of glucose and hormones, such as insulin, that are necessary to regulate blood sugar. Diabetes is a disease in which your blood sugar levels are too high. Even if you don’t have diabetes, you may sometimes have problems with blood sugar that is too low or too high. 

What’s Insulin Got to Do With It?

Insulin helps control your body’s blood sugar levels and metabolism. Over time, drinking too much alcohol decreases the effectiveness of insulin. This is mainly noticeable in heavy drinkers. High blood sugar prompts the release of insulin to help bring the levels back to normal; therefore, if insulin loses its effectiveness as a result of heavy drinking, it leads to high blood sugar levels. 

Alcohol affects blood sugar levels every time it’s consumed, which means that even moderate drinkers can be affected negatively. Drinking creates an increase in the secretion of insulin, which then leads to low blood sugar. This can result in lightheadedness, fatigue, and a range of long-term alcohol-related health problems.

What is High Blood Sugar?

Because blood glucose supplies energy to all the cells in the body, it’s important to keep blood sugar levels within a safe range to lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Blood sugar levels that are consistently high are part of a condition called hyperglycemia. 

Hyperglycemia usually develops when there is not enough insulin in the body or when the cells have become less sensitive to insulin. Glucose can’t enter cells without insulin, causing it to build up in the bloodstream. 

Symptoms of Hyperglycemia

Common symptoms of hyperglycemia include dry mouth, frequent urination, and increased thirst. You might also experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness

Continuous hyperglycemia can also cause insulin resistance, which decreases sensitivity to insulin and the amount of glucose that the cells can absorb. This can eventually lead to Type 2 diabetes. 

Long-Term Effects of Persistent Hyperglycemia

Serious problems can develop as a result of continuous hyperglycemia, including:

  • Foot ulcers
  • Loss of vision
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Kidney disease or kidney failure
  • Increased risk of a heart attack or stroke
  • Permanent nerve damage

Low Blood Sugar Levels

Hypoglycemia develops when your concentrations of blood sugar fall too low. People with diabetes have a higher risk of both high and low blood sugar. 

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia 

Early symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Tingling lips
  • Trembling
  • Pale face
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety

Some symptoms of hypoglycemia can look similar to those of excessive drinking or drunkenness. The most common ones include feeling dizzy, lightheaded, sleepy, or confused.

Other people may think your low blood sugar symptoms are due to consuming too much alcohol and may not realize that you need help. Make sure they know that your hypoglycemia signs look like being drunk. If you have diabetes, it’s important to carry or wear a medical ID.

Causes of Hypoglycemia

Causes of hypoglycemia include:

  • Anorexia
  • Diabetes
  • Certain medications
  • Taking too much insulin
  • Hepatitis and kidney disorders
  • Drinking alcohol without eating (this can stop the liver from releasing glycogen)

The Effects of Alcohol on Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you probably think that drinking alcohol is off-limits. However, that’s often not the case. If your blood sugar is controlled and you take the right precautions, you can drink alcohol in moderation. If you watch how much you drink and what types of drinks you consume, you can avoid alcohol-related risks like low blood sugar, weight gain, and high blood pressure. 

Before reaching for your first drink, ask yourself these three questions suggested by the American Diabetes Association:

  1. Is my diabetes well under control?
  2. Does my health care team agree that I can drink alcohol?
  3. Am I aware of how alcohol can affect me and my blood sugar?

If you can answer “yes” to all three questions, then alcohol may not have extremely adverse effects on your health. Still, it is important for you to be sure that you know the possible effects of drinking and that you know your limits. Excessive alcohol use can lead to alcoholism and a lifelong battle with alcohol abuse.

5 Tips for Safely Consuming Alcohol

People with diabetes who consume alcohol should follow these tips:

  • If your blood sugar is in good control, but limit drinks to one per day for women and two per day for men. For example, one alcoholic drink equals a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor, or a 12-ounce beer. If you do not have good control of your blood sugar, don’t drink alcohol at all. 
  • Choose lower-calorie light beers, dry wines, or drinks mixed with water, seltzer, tonic water, or diet soft drinks. Avoid sugary drinks mixed with fruit juice or blended cocktails.
  • If you drink regularly, tell your doctor or health care team. Also, tell them if there’s a change in your drinking habits.
  • Always eat a meal or snack when you drink to stave off low blood sugar. If you have a drink in the evening, test your glucose before going to bed. If it’s low, eat a snack. 
  • The calories you get from a drink can replace a serving of fat. However, never substitute a drink for a meal.

These tips can be beneficial whether you have diabetes or not. 

Is Alcohol Affecting Your Blood Sugar Levels, or Worse?

Alcohol can wreak havoc on your body. It can be even worse you are diabetic. If you or a loved one is having a problem with alcohol and blood sugar, you can get comprehensive, compassionate help at Harmony Place Rehab Center

If you need a detox, we will help you get rid of the alcohol that’s poisoning your body. From there, we have several levels of care so you can transition directly into a program designed specifically for you. Our treatment programs include individual and group therapy to help you better understand alcohol use disorder. 

Because the whole family is affected by addiction, we provide family therapy to help heal and educate your loved ones. Your physical and mental health are too important to allow this to wait. We’re here 24/7 to answer questions and help you on your road to recovery. Contact us today