Diabetes isn’t a death sentence. With proper care, you can live a long and healthy life with the condition. But people with diabetes have to be careful about what they eat, and they have rules about medications, footwear, medical exams, and more.
If you don’t have diabetes now, you should do all you can to avoid it. And what’s one easy thing you can do to skip diabetes? Control your drinking.
Diabetes and drinking intertwine, raising risk factors you already have and bringing new ones into the fold.
People with diabetes can also worsen their health by drinking — even at low levels.
If you have both diabetes and alcoholism, don’t fear. Both conditions can be treated, and in the right addiction program, you could get help for both issues at the same time.
Alcohol Enhances Diabetes Risk Factors
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. The type 1 version is sparked by genetics or an autoimmune condition, and it’s relatively rare.
When we’re talking about diabetes risks and preventing disease, we’re typically discussing type 2 diabetes. And this condition is deeply influenced by alcohol.
To process each bite, your body uses a chemical called insulin. It’s produced in the pancreas, and it tells your cells that it’s open season on sugar floating in your bloodstream. When everything is humming along properly, neither insulin nor sugar builds up in the blood.
Type 2 diabetes takes hold when people don’t make enough insulin, or the body doesn’t respond to it. That means both sugar and insulin can build up in the bloodstream. The longer it stays there, the more damage it can do to your body.
- Alcoholic drinks are loaded with calories. And alcohol can turn off your brain’s common sense. You’ll eat an entire bowl of chips before you know it, even if you’d turn them down while sober. All of those calories add up.
- Pancreas damage. This organ makes your insulin, and when it’s not healthy, it can’t do the work. Heavy alcohol use is associated with the death of pancreatic cells.
- Poor nutrition. You need a diet loaded with greens, grains, and goodness to keep organs healthy. The chaos that comes with alcohol can prompt you to load up on prepared meals and junk food, and that raises your diabetes risk.
Other risk factors don’t relate to alcohol, of course. But it’s clear that drinking can lead almost directly to changes that can spark type 2 diabetes.
Alcohol and Your Weight
We mentioned that sipping alcohol can lead to an expanding waistline, and that weight gain is a risk factor for diabetes. That’s worth expanding on. The connection between alcohol and caloric intake is very clear, but it’s easy to overlook.
Consider the calories associated with these common drinks, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine:
- Beer (12 ounces): 153 calories
- White table wine (5 ounces): 128 calories
- Red table wine (5 ounces): 125 calories
- Vodka (80 proof; 1.5 ounces): 97 calories
- Whiskey (94 proof; 1.5 ounces): 116 calories
- Margarita (4 ounces): 168 calories
- Vodka and tonic (7 ounces): 189 calories
Imagine you’re a drink-with-dinner person. Swapping out a couple glasses of wine for a few glasses of water could save you hundreds of calories.
You don’t have to be a heavy drinker to feel the impact of alcohol on your diabetes. Even small amounts can harm your waistline and your health.
Alcohol Abuse Is Risky Too
Alcohol’s ties to diabetes don’t stop with an expanding waistline. The drug can also change the way your body’s cells work. And one type of damage has been closely and clearly tied to the development of insulin problems.
In a healthy body, cells respond immediately when exposed to insulin. As soon as it’s detected, changes take hold. You will do the most damage if you binge drink.
Binge drinking, which is typically defined as drinking a lot with the intention of intoxication, puts tremendous stress on your body. Alcohol is a toxin, and all your organs must band together to neutralize the threat. That hard work, when repeated over and over, can damage some organs beyond repair.
Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and researchers say alcohol abuse can cause it regardless of your weight.
Plenty of people with alcoholism don’t drink in a bingeing manner. But if you do, your risk of diabetes rises with each episode.
Should You Drink With Diabetes?
You already have the disorder, so the damage is done. You can drink as much as you’d like, right? Not exactly.
Just as alcohol can shift the way your body responds to diabetes risks, the substance can cause further damage once you have a diabetes diagnosis.
Without proper help, you can lose consciousness. You can also develop seizures.
These are life-threatening complications most people with diabetes do everything to prevent. But drinking can cause them.
You might think you can use insulin to help you prepare for drinking. You’ll give yourself an injection before you start, and the damage will be avoided. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
It’s incredibly hard to determine how quickly alcohol will be metabolized by your body, and that means predicting glucose levels is very tricky. Give yourself too much insulin, and you could also have serious health problems.
Clearly, drinking any amount isn’t safe for a person with diabetes. But you may find that it’s difficult to cut down on how much you drink. If so, you could have alcoholism, and that could further jeopardize your health.
Do You Have Alcoholism?
You may know quite a bit about how to test for and monitor diabetes. If you’ve been diagnosed, for example, you’re probably a pro at testing your blood sugar at home with tools from your doctor.
While there isn’t a similar test for alcoholism, there are many symptoms you can watch for to determine if you need help.
- Set rules. You’ll stop drinking during the workweek. You’ll only have one glass per night. You will never drink alone. You end up breaking these rules.
- Make excuses. You’ve had a bad day, so you deserve to have just one sip to take the edge off. Or, you’re celebrating something wonderful, and it just wouldn’t be right if you didn’t drink.
- Hide the damage. You don’t disclose how much or how often you drink even if it scares you.
- Feel controlled. You’re drawn to the bottle for reasons you can’t explain or define. You feel like it makes decisions for you and not the other way around.
- Stop enjoying alcohol. That first sip doesn’t make you feel warm, fuzzy, and better about life. You drink to avoid feeling sick from alcohol withdrawal. You need it just to feel normal.
It’s not easy to talk about alcoholism. But you might be surprised to learn how supportive your community is and how much they want to help you.
Start by talking to someone you trust. Tell them how you’re feeling and what’s happening. Then, work with that person to find a treatment program that’s right for you. This is a problem you can work on.
Addressing Both Alcoholism and Diabetes
If you have both diabetes and alcoholism, must you treat one before you can deal with the other one? Experts don’t think so. In fact, working through both issues at once could be the best decision you’ve ever made.
Your diabetes can work like an alcohol risk factor. When your blood sugar level dips and you feel nervous, a drink might be just the thing to take the edge off.
And your alcoholism can make controlling your diabetes difficult. You may not have the concentration you need to test your blood and take your medication on time. That can make everything about your diabetes worse.
It doesn’t make sense to treat just one problem while you ignore the other. You will need a program that can help you address both issues at the same time.
What to Look for in Treatment
Recovery from alcoholism is possible. People fight back every day. But recovery is personal, and the program that is right for you might look very different than the program that is right for someone else. That’s especially true if you have diabetes.
As you search for treatment, ask about:
- Developing your diabetes plan. Some addiction treatment facilities have doctors who can develop a diabetes treatment plan, check your blood sugar, and prescribe your medications. Others don’t, and they will ask you to work with your doctor to draw up a treatment plan. You’ll need to decide which version works best for you.
- Treating your condition. Diabetes is typically managed via insulin, and it’s delivered via needle. Some treatment programs have rules banning needles, and they will make insulin care tough. Others have nurses who can give you medications on a schedule you set. And still others have flexible hours, so you can schedule treatment around your therapy. You’ll need to find out where yours falls on this spectrum.
- Personalizing your care. A one-size-fits-all solution isn’t right for your health and your addiction. You’ll need to know how the program tailors care for you. Does the plan change as your health changes? How much input do you have?
- Providing connections. Does your program include other people who have similar health issues? That’s important, as you can learn so much about life with a chronic condition from your peers. If you’re the only one struggling, learning might be harder for you.
- Including your family. When can your family come to visit? Will you have therapy sessions together? Your family will play a role in your health when your program is complete, and it might be helpful for them to stay involved throughout your care. Some programs allow this, and others don’t.
- Using your insurance. Does the program work with your insurance company to help cover the cost of care? If not, are there payment plans you can access to keep the cost of care within your budget?
If you’re not comfortable asking these questions yourself, ask your loved one to help you with the research. Compare notes and make the choice together. There’s no need to do all the work by yourself when you have someone there to help you.
Take your time, and make sure you find a program that seems right for you, your health, and your addiction. It’s an important decision, and you’ll want to make sure you are careful as you choose. If you do your homework, you’re sure to find a program that’s right for you.
Don’t let your addiction ruin your chances at good health and a long life. Get the help you need to feel better and get control once more.