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Can Alcohol Abuse Cause Diabetes?

More than 10% of Americans struggle with diabetes, making it one of the most common diseases in the country.[1] Alcohol use is even more common. More than half of Americans report drinking alcohol each month.[2] Although alcohol abuse does not cause diabetes, it can increase diabetes-related health risks and contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. While this does not mean people with diabetes cannot drink alcohol every now and then, it does mean these individuals should be extra careful regarding their alcohol consumption.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects blood glucose levels (also known as blood sugar). In healthy people, the pancreas reacts to glucose levels rising in the blood by releasing insulin. Insulin’s job is to help the body use glucose in the right way–as energy at a cellular level. However, people with diabetes have problems with insulin. Some cannot make their own insulin and others are unable to use their insulin in the right way.

When insulin isn’t used properly, it causes blood sugar levels to rise over time. This can ultimately lead to several major health conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, or loss of vision.

There are three types of diabetes:[3]

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is thought to stem from an autoimmune condition that affects the cells in the pancreas that are supposed to make insulin. This results in a significant insulin deficiency. This type of diabetes is usually diagnosed early on in life, so it may be referred to as juvenile diabetes.

People who have type 1 diabetes take insulin regularly to keep their blood sugar levels in a normal range. If they do not have insulin, they can die. Only 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1.[1]

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. This condition occurs in people who don’t produce enough insulin or are unable to use insulin effectively. People who are overweight, obese, and physically inactive are at the highest risk for type 2 diabetes.

People who have type 2 diabetes must eat a restricted diet with low carbs and low sugar while also taking medications that help them use insulin properly. 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a rare type of diabetes that sometimes develops during pregnancy. Without treatment, it can have harmful effects on the baby’s health. However, in most cases, gestational diabetes resolves itself after birth.

Does Alcohol Abuse Increase The Risk for Diabetes?

Alcohol abuse does not cause diabetes, but it can increase the risk, worsen symptoms, and complicate treatment. Since type 1 diabetes is usually related to genetic and environmental factors, people who abuse alcohol are unlikely to develop type 1 diabetes as an adult. However, heavy, long-term drinking can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In individuals who already have diabetes, alcohol abuse can make controlling blood sugar extremely difficult. It can also reduce the efficacy of prescription medications and increase the risk of diabetes-related health conditions such as heart disease, neurological issues, and kidney failure.

The Damaging Relationship Between Alcohol Abuse and Diabetes

A few ways alcohol abuse can increase the risk of diabetes or lead to worsening symptoms are:[4,5]

  • Many alcoholic drinks are full of sugar and empty calories. This can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels and weight gain–two factors that can lead to type 2 diabetes.
  • Alcohol makes blood sugar levels unpredictable. Alcohol affects various metabolic processes which can lead to spikes and dips in blood sugar as well as ineffective insulin usage.
  • Alcohol abuse increases the risk of diabetic health-related complications. Heavy or chronic alcohol use increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease (cardiovascular disease), nerve damage (neuropathy), and eye problems (such as retinopathy)–all of which are long-term consequences of diabetes.
  • Heavy alcohol use increases the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a serious and potentially fatal complication of diabetes that occurs when the body doesn’t have enough insulin to allow blood glucose into your cells to produce energy.
  • Alcohol affects how metformin, a type 2 diabetes drug, works. Drinking alcohol while taking metformin can cause a rare, yet dangerous condition called lactic acidosis. Lactic acidosis is a medical emergency.

Due to these increased risks, people with diabetes generally consume less alcohol than people without the condition. However, research estimates that nearly 46% of people who are diagnosed with diabetes drink alcohol.

Alcohol Use and Hypoglycemia

One of the biggest concerns associated with alcohol abuse and diabetes is the risk of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia simply means low blood sugar or blood sugar that falls below 70 mg/dL. Both alcohol and diabetes medications are known to temporarily decrease blood sugar, so using them together can lower blood sugar to dangerous levels.[4]

Hypoglycemia can occur while drinking because the liver is responsible for not only metabolizing alcohol but also releasing stored carbohydrates to stabilize blood sugar. And, when a person drinks alcohol, the liver prioritizes the metabolism of alcohol above everything else. As a result, the liver is no longer working to stabilize blood sugar, and blood sugar levels can begin to drop to dangerous levels.

Doctors generally recommend that people who are diagnosed with diabetes avoid drinking alcohol. Those who do choose to drink should avoid drinks that are high in sugar and only consume alcohol in moderation.

Find Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Today

Whether you have diabetes or not, alcohol abuse and alcoholism can damage your body from the inside out. It can lead to various life-threatening health conditions that strip away your freedom, happiness, and well-being. The best thing you can do for yourself is to stop drinking alcohol.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, our team at Mandala Healing Center can help. Contact us today to see if our alcohol rehab program in West Palm Beach is right for you.