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Alcohol and Blood Sugar: How Does Alcohol Affect Blood Sugar?

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What is Blood Sugar?

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Blood sugar, also referred to as blood glucose, is sugar that is transferred to the cells through the bloodstream. A person’s blood sugar is the concentration of sugar in the blood at a specific time. Our body regulates our blood sugar levels by the foods we consume. When our blood sugar is balanced it is called homeostasis. However, our blood sugar levels can go up and down based on when we eat and how our body releases a hormone called insulin. 

Insulin allows the cells in the muscles, fat, and liver to absorb glucose that is in the blood. Glucose serves as an energy source for these cells. It can also be converted into fat. If you’ve just eaten, your blood sugar levels will go up, and then they’ll go back down. But if you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels are above normal and would need to be managed. 

Normal fasting blood glucose ranges from 70-100 milligrams. Hyperglycemia is the term for when your blood sugar is too high. This can occur when people have uncontrolled diabetes. Hypoglycemia is when your blood sugar is below normal. This occurs when diabetics use too much of their medications

Even though alcohol can have damaging effects short- and long-term on an individual without diabetes, an individual with diabetes has to be very careful when drinking alcohol due to the effects it can have on blood sugar.

How Does Alcohol Affect Blood Sugar??

What is alcohol?

Many women consume alcohol due to the effects it has on the body. Alcohol is classified as a sedative-hypnotic drug. To explain this in simpler terms at lower doses, it acts as a stimulant and at higher doses, it acts as a depressant. So you may witness individuals or even yourself after consuming a couple of glasses of alcohol become talkative or have a feeling of euphoria. When you drink too much alcohol it can lead you to become drowsy, unstable on your feet, and slurring your words. 

Alcohol can affect every organ in your body. It is rapidly absorbed by the stomach and small intestine then enters the bloodstream once it is consumed. Normally, the liver breaks down one standard alcoholic drink per hour. Excess alcohol moves throughout the body. So any alcohol that the liver does not break down is removed by the lungs, kidneys, and skin through urine and sweat. 

How Does Alcohol Affect Blood Sugar?

Alcohol affects your blood sugar for as long as it is in your body. Alcohol can cause blood glucose levels to rise or fall, depending on how much you drink. The liver is very important when it comes to regulating blood sugar levels throughout the day. The main function of your liver is to store glycogen, which is then stored in the form of glucose.  When drinking, alcohol affects the liver and its ability to release glucose into the bloodstream.

Alcohol is capable of raising your blood sugar. Alcoholic drinks are high in sugar. This can cause your blood sugar to spike. The effects of alcohol on your blood sugar will initially increase as the sugar from alcohol enters your blood, then peak once the maximum amount of sugar in the alcohol has been absorbed. This can take about 1-2 hours. Your body then releases insulin to bring your high sugar level down and inhibits the release of glucose removed from the liver. So your blood sugar will initially spike then decrease.  

Once your body has absorbed all the sugar it can from alcohol, it will start to use up the sugar, decreasing your blood sugar levels. Alcohol impairs liver function and can keep your liver from releasing enough glycogen to keep your blood glucose levels from going too low. As the liver inhibits the release of more sugar, your blood sugar levels will lower. This makes your blood sugar low as long as the alcohol keeps impacting your liver’s normal function. 

Once enough alcohol has been removed from the body your liver will regain the ability to release sugar. This often takes about 12 hours. If a diabetic drinks alcohol and takes insulin as their prescribed treatment they may experience hypoglycemia, low blood sugar. Some other diabetes medications work to also lower blood glucose levels by stimulating the pancreas to make more insulin. Combining these medications and alcohol can lead to insulin shock, which is a medical emergency.

Some signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia or “insulin shock” are: 

  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Blurry vision

Negative Health Effects of Alcohol and Blood Sugar

Due to the effects alcohol can have on raising and lowering blood sugar, people with diabetes or other blood sugar issues must be careful when consuming alcohol. Even for individuals with diabetes, they could be on different medications so their body may react differently to alcohol. Your overall health plays a significant role in how your body responds to alcohol and blood sugar. Does alcohol lower blood sugar even if you are not diabetic? Yes, alcohol can still lower your blood sugar because drinking increases insulin secretion.

Due to the effect of alcohol on diabetes, women with diabetes should check their blood sugars often when consuming alcohol. After consuming a couple of drinks they may notice their blood sugar is high but as said before this initial spike can drop to dangerous levels. So they must be careful about medicating high sugar levels caused by alcohol use. It is also safe to check their blood sugar at night before going to sleep after consuming alcohol to ensure they are not hypoglycemic or entering into a period of hypoglycemia while sleeping. 

Heavy Alcohol Use and Diabetes

chronic relapsing diseaseAs stated above, glucose is used as an energy source for your muscle and liver cells. If you consume a lot of alcohol and you become hypoglycemic you can wipe out your energy storage in just a few hours. Excessive alcohol consumption can reduce the overall effectiveness of insulin. This results in high blood sugar levels. Many people who have been diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease also have either glucose intolerance or diabetes. 

Individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes have to be very careful when it comes to drinking alcohol. Always consult with your physician about the risk alcohol can have on your body and with your medications. Some medications are not compatible with alcohol consumption. People with diabetes should be sure to pay attention to any potential warning of hypoglycemia. 

For diabetics, the American Diabetes Association has guidelines regarding how much alcohol they should drink and recommendations on when to drink to avoid complications. Some of these recommendations include: 

  • No more than one drink per day for women
  • Diabetics should not drink when their blood sugar levels are low or when they have an empty stomach
  • Certain types of alcoholic beverages may be more detrimental for people with diabetes, including heavy craft beers due to the number of carbs and sugar that are in alcohol. 

How does Alcohol Affect Blood Sugar in Non-Diabetics? 

Alcohol can be very high in sugar and calories, depending on the type of drink. This can increase the risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. If you are drinking moderately, this may not pose a threat, but excessive drinking may likely contribute to its development in the body. Alcohol consumption can also lead to high blood pressure, hypertension. 

Additionally, when looking at the labels and serving size it is important to factor in those sugars and calories when you’re looking at your overall diet. Consuming too much alcohol may make it difficult to lose weight due to how many calories it contains. Drinking alcohol can also increase the chance of making unhealthy dietary choices. Alcohol consumption can stimulate your appetite which can cause overeating and will increase blood sugar levels further. 

Alcohol Addiction Treatment 

Stopping alcohol can make a big difference in your health. It can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and reduce spikes in your blood sugar. By quitting alcohol use you will also reduce your risk of obesity which will also improve your blood sugar levels.

If you or a family member is dealing with alcohol addiction and are ready to take the next step towards a better lifestyle, whether you are a diabetic or not, and towards recovery, New Directions for Women is here to help. 

Our facility caters to all women, no matter what they may be going through. To begin recovery, one of the first steps is detoxification, to rid your body of any drugs and alcohol. It is never a good idea to go through detox alone. Withdrawal from alcohol can be very dangerous and painful, and in some cases fatal. You may also be tempted to go back to the bottle. Completing a medically supervised detoxification protocol within a licensed detox facility is the safest and most effective way. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction and you have been putting off getting help, please contact New Directions for Women today.


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