Can Alcohol Cause Diabetes?
Research shows that alcohol raises the risk of developing diabetes. This occurs because alcohol misuse:
Alcohol and Diabetes: A Dangerous Combination?
Consuming low quantities of alcohol is safe for those with diabetes. Some studies suggest it may also reduce the risk of diabetic complications. For example:
It’s important to note that researchers observed these benefits only in those patients who consumed less than the recommended quantities of alcohol (discussed below). Beyond these limits, alcohol also puts diabetic patients at risk of:
Hypoglycemia Due to Alcohol Misuse With Diabetes
Patients with diabetes who misuse alcohol often replace their meals with alcoholic drinks. This puts them in a calorie-deficient state, which the body tries to correct by turning to energy sources other than sugar (namely, proteins and fat). Eventually, these reserves run out, leading to hypoglycemia (i.e., low blood sugar levels).
Prolonged hypoglycemia can cause nerve and brain damage, leading to life-long complications such as incontinence, issues with memory, and other cognitive impairments.
Hyperglycemia to Excessive Alcohol-Intake With Diabetes
In well-nourished patients with diabetes, alcohol misuse raises blood sugar levels; that is, it causes hyperglycemia (due to the three reasons discussed in the Can Alcohol Cause Diabetes? section above).
Complications From Mixing Alcohol and Diabetes
Consuming alcohol in greater-than-recommended quantities increases risks of complications in patients with diabetes. These risks include:
- Diabetic ketoacidosis– Since alcohol misuse can lead to malnourishment, the body uses proteins and fats for energy, which produces chemicals (specifically ketones) that increase acidity in blood. This, in turn, can lead to vomiting, abdominal pain, irregular heart rhythms, confusion, and even death.
- Nerve damage (neuropathy) – Alcohol consumption damages nerves by triggering an inflammatory reaction and reducing the absorption of the gut’s ‘nerve-friendly’ vitamins, such as thiamine. As a result, patients with diabetes who misuse alcohol are significantly more likely to experience neuropathies than those who do not drink.
- Vision impairment – Alcohol negatively affects vision in patients with diabetes by damaging nerves in the eye and accelerating cataract development.
- Liver dysfunction – When patients with diabetes drink too much alcohol, it overwhelms the overworked liver as it metabolizes alcohol and controls sugar production and storage. Understandably, this can cause liver failure.
- Dangerous drug interactions – Some anti-diabetic medications (such as chlorpropamide) can cause unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects when taken with alcohol. As always, please consult your healthcare provider before taking any medication.