Diabetes and Alcohol: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

People who have diabetes need to be more careful with alcohol. Before you drink, consider a few things: Is your diabetes well controlled? Do you know how drinking alcohol can affect you? Do you have high blood pressure, nerve damage, or eye problems from your diabetes?

If you take insulin or another medicine for diabetes, drinking alcohol may cause low blood sugar. This could cause dangerous low blood sugar levels.

Too much alcohol can also affect your ability to know your blood sugar is low and to treat it. Drinking alcohol can make you light-headed at first and drowsy as you drink more, both of which may be similar to the symptoms of low blood sugar.

Drinking a lot of alcohol over a long period of time can damage your liver (cirrhosis). If this happens, your body may lose its natural response to protect itself from low blood sugar.

If you are controlling your diabetes and do not have other health issues, it may be okay to have a drink once in a while. Learning how alcohol affects your body can help you make the right choices.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

If you drink

  • Work with your doctor or other diabetes expert to find what is best for you. Make sure you know whether it is safe to drink if you are taking insulin or another medicine for diabetes.
  • If you're a man, have no more than 3 standard drinks a day on most days and no more than 15 drinks a week. If you're a woman, have no more than 2 standard drinks a day on most days and no more than 10 drinks a week. The following is considered a standard drink:
    • One 341 mL bottle of beer or wine cooler
    • One 142 mL glass of wine
    • One mixed drink with 43 mL of 80-proof hard liquor, such as gin, whiskey, or rum
  • Choose alcoholic drinks wisely. With hard alcohol, use sugar-free mixers, such as diet tonic, water, or club soda. Pick drinks that have less alcohol, including light beer or dry wine. Or add club soda to wine to dilute it. Also remember that most alcoholic drinks have a lot of calories.
  • When you drink, check your blood sugar before you go to bed. Have a snack before bed so your blood sugar does not drop while you sleep.

When not to drink

  • Never drink on an empty stomach. If you do drink alcohol, drink it only with a meal or snack. Having as little as 2 drinks on an empty stomach could lead to low blood sugar.
  • Do not drink alcohol if you have problems recognizing the signs of low blood sugar until they become severe.
  • Do not drink alcohol after you exercise. The exercise itself lowers blood sugar.
  • Do not drink if you have nerve damage. Drinking can make it worse and increase the pain, numbness, and other symptoms.
  • Do not drink if you have high blood pressure.
  • Do not drink if you have diabetic eye disease.
  • Do not drink if you have high triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood. Drinking can raise triglycerides.
  • Do not drink if you are trying to lose weight. Alcohol provides empty calories that do not give you any nutrients.
  • Do not drink and drive. The effects of alcohol are greater if you have low blood sugar.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness), or you suddenly become very sleepy or confused. (You may have very low blood sugar.)
  • You have symptoms of high blood sugar, such as:
    • Blurred vision.
    • Trouble staying awake or being woken up.
    • Fast, deep breathing.
    • Breath that smells fruity.
    • Belly pain, not feeling hungry, and vomiting.
    • Feeling confused.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are sick and cannot control your blood sugar.
  • You have been vomiting or have had diarrhea for more than 6 hours.
  • Your blood sugar stays higher than the level your doctor has set for you.
  • You have symptoms of low blood sugar, such as:
    • Sweating.
    • Feeling nervous, shaky, and weak.
    • Extreme hunger and slight nausea.
    • Dizziness and headache.
    • Blurred vision.
    • Confusion.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have a hard time knowing when your blood sugar is low.
  • You have trouble keeping your blood sugar in the target range.
  • You often have problems controlling your blood sugar.
  • You have symptoms of long-term diabetes problems, such as:
    • New vision changes.
    • New pain, numbness, or tingling in your hands or feet.
    • Skin problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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