Diabetes & alcohol

Although alcohol does have an effect on blood glucose levels, with a few safety measures and careful management, people with diabetes can also enjoy a drink.

Does alcohol affect diabetes?

People with diabetes have to be extra careful with alcohol. Alcohol can affect diabetes in a few ways:

  • Alcohol increases your chances hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose):
    • Drinking can cause low blood glucose for up to 24 hours after drinking.
    • You need to be especially aware of this if you are taking medication to control your diabetes such as insulin or sulphonylureas such as gliclazide and glipizide.
  • Drinking too much alcohol can also affect your ability to recognise or know when your blood glucose is too low:
    • Alcohol can often make you feel lightheaded, dizzy and drowsy, which are similar to the symptoms you may experience if your blood glucose is too low.
    • Having low blood glucose (hypoglycaemia) is often confused with being drunk.
  • If you have nerve damage related to diabetes, drinking alcohol can make it worse and increase pain, numbness or the tingling sensation.
  • Alcohol has a high-calorie content, so frequent intake may cause weight gain. 

Can I drink alcohol if I have diabetes?

If you have diabetes, check with your doctor if you are allowed to drink alcohol. If your diabetes is poorly controlled and you have experienced hypoglycaemia often, your doctor may advise that you hold off until your diabetes is better controlled.

Tips for drinking with diabetes

  • Limit the quantity of alcohol that you drink.
    • Women should not have more than 2 standard drinks per day.
    • Men should limit their intake to not more than 3 standard drinks per day.
      (One standard drink is 100 ml wine, 30 ml spirits or 300 ml beer)
    • Avoid binge drinking.
  • Do not drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
    • Always ensure that you drink alcohol with a meal or snack. Food slows down the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream and this helps to prevent low blood glucose (hypoglycemia).
  • Do not drink alcohol after exercise.
    • This increases your chances of having low blood glucose (hypoglycemia), since exercise itself lowers blood sugar.
  • Check your blood glucose levels before you drink, after you drink, and before you go to bed.
  • Choose your alcohol drinks wisely.
    • Select alcohol beverages that have less alcohol including light beer and light wine. If you are mixing your drink, use sugar-free mixers such as water, diet tonic or club soda. Avoid "ready to drink" premixed drinks.
  • Be prepared to manage hypoglycaemia
    • Carry along glucose tablets, lollies or another source of sugar that you can take if you feel unwell and suspect that your blood glucose is too low.

Learn more

Alcohol American Diabetes Association
Alcohol Diabetes UK
Diabetes & alcohol WebMD
Alcohol & diabetes Drink Aware UK

Credits: Editorial team. Last reviewed: 25 Jan 2016