Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 20 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 15 years. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.

Parties are always fun, but there are choices to be made. If you have diabetes, you are not only deciding what you should or should not eat and how much that extra cookie will cost your blood sugar, but there may be alcohol, and you may want that glass of wine. If you understand the effects of alcohol on your body, you will be able to make some informed decisions and party safely.

Alcohol and diabetes

It is certainly not taboo to have a drink if you have diabetes. The American Diabetes Association released a 2012 statement on alcohol consumption and diabetes, which says, “If adults with diabetes choose to use alcohol, they should limit intake to a moderate amount (one drink per day or less for adult women and two drinks per day or less for adult men) and should take extra precautions to prevent hypoglycemia.”

The liver is the primary metabolizer of alcohol, and when you consume alcohol, you are keeping your liver “busy” for several hours because it is taking care of the alcohol. Normally your liver produces glucose from stored glycogen when it senses the need in the blood, but this response may be delayed or blunted if the liver is otherwise occupied metabolizing alcohol. This can be especially dangerous for a person with diabetes. Your perception of hypoglycemia can also be impaired because alcohol affects the brain, as we know. Additionally, studies have shown that acute alcohol consumption may increase insulin secretion in some people.

Take caution

All of these facts make it very important to drink responsibly when you have diabetes. First, never drink on an empty stomach. If you consume good, healthy carbohydrates before drinking, you will help protect yourself from hypoglycemia. That doesn’t mean eat cookies and a piece of pie! Eat some healthy food like a turkey sandwich or some ham and fresh fruit.

The next rule is to stay hydrated. Try to drink one glass of water for each alcoholic beverage you consume. This is because alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration.

It is always important to wear or carry a medical ID if you have diabetes. If your blood sugar gets low and you start becoming confused, people may mistakenly think you have been drinking if they are not aware that you have diabetes. This can be especially true at a party when there is a lot of alcohol provided.

One of the most important things to remember when drinking with diabetes is frequent blood sugar monitoring. Perhaps testing right before a party and then a few hours later as alcohol may impair a person’s ability to detect blood sugar changes.

Keep in mind that alcohol does have some calories, and depending on what is in the drink, it may also have carbohydrate content. There are seven calories for each gram of alcohol. One standard drink is defined as five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. You can check labels or look up calories and carbohydrate content of alcoholic beverages in books and on the Internet.

What has your experience been with alcohol and how it affects your diabetes? Let us know in the comments below.