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  • Writer's pictureKatie Gavin

How alcohol impacts your blood sugar

Updated: Feb 11

Alcohol can have some feel good effects on your body while you are drinking it. The happy buzz, the liquid courage, and the urge to let loose and have fun. Although it is the world’s most common drug, the effects it can have on your body and how it functions can turn into a problem. Alcoholic drinks are full of empty calories (alcohol + sugar content) and have no useful nutritional value- meaning bad news for your waistline. More so, alcohol alters your blood sugar which increases the risk of developing alcohol-related diabetes, due to its effect on the bodies ability to regulate blood sugar.

However long alcohol is in your body, it is affecting your blood sugar.

Lowering or Raising your blood sugar?

Upon consuming it, you will experience an initial increase in blood sugar, as the sugar from the alcohol enters your blood. After about two hours, blood sugar levels begin to decrease. Alcohol changes how the pancreas functions and leads to an increase in insulin while inhibiting the liver’s ability to release enough glycogen to keep your blood glucose levels from going too low. In other words, alcohol will cause a big spike in your blood sugar, followed by a huge drop, causing blood sugar to be artificially low.

In most cases, mild to moderate amounts of alcohol can increase blood sugar. Drinking excessively will decrease the level, though, sometimes causing it to drop extremely low. This would be extremely dangerous for people with type 1 diabetes.

Different types of alcohol factor in as well. Beer, which is very carb-heavy, causes a more immediate and drastic spike in glucose levels. Sugary cocktails can also be glucose bombs, as well as sweeter wines. However, liquor on its own and some dryer wines may affect the liver different and result in glucose drops, or no drop or spike at all.

Why do blood sugar spikes and drops matter?

In the long term, repeated spikes in your blood sugar can cause heart problems, kidney problems, problems with eyesight, and nerve issues like neuropathy. Along with health issues, chronic blood sugar spikes can cause excess weight gain. When there is a lot of excess insulin and blood sugar in our blood stream, it signals our body to put that excess sugar in fat. Meaning it will be a lot harder for you to lose weight when your body is always trying to bring your blood sugar back down.

What does this mean for you?

Although alcohol is usually metabolized within 12 hours of drinking it, long term heavy alcohol use could potentially put you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, as well as other health issues.

  • Regular heavy drinking can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which can trigger type 2 diabetes.

  • Diabetes is a common side effect of chronic pancreatitis, which may be caused by heavy drinking.

  • Alcoholic drinks often contain a lot of calories – for instance, one pint of lager is equivalent to a slice of pizza. So, drinking increases your chance of becoming overweight or obese, which raises your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

How can you be better?

  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach- food helps slow down the rate at which your body can absorb the alcohol, decreasing the effect it has on your blood sugar

  • Drink slowly

  • Refrain from binge drinking- the more alcohol, the greater the spike and drop in blood sugar

  • Avoid the sugary mixed drinks, sweet wines, or cordials

  • Cut down on how many drinks a week- Men no more than 2 standard drinks per day (14/week) and women no more than 1 standard drink per day (7/week).

Any time you drink alcohol, there is a risk of getting low blood sugar. Drink alcohol with a meal or with a carbohydrate-rich snack to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Never skip meals or have alcohol in place of a meal. Drink slowly and be aware of how you are responding to the alcohol.

Steiner JL, Crowell KT, Lang CH. Impact of Alcohol on Glycemic Control and Insulin Action. Biomolecules. 2015 Sep 29;5(4):2223-46. doi: 10.3390/biom5042223. PMID: 26426068; PMCID: PMC4693236.


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