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Can Alcohol Abuse Cause Diabetes?

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Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar levels resulting from the body’s inability to produce or effectively use insulin. While several factors contribute to diabetes, lifestyle choices, including alcohol consumption, have been suggested to influence its development and management.

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Types of Diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 (also known as juvenile diabetes) and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It is not directly linked to alcohol consumption.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is influenced by multiple factors, including genetics, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and diet. It is the most common form of diabetes and can be affected by alcohol consumption.

How Does Alcohol Interact with Blood Sugar Levels?

Alcohol can have complex effects on blood sugar levels, which depend on various factors, including the amount of alcohol consumed, individual metabolism, and whether and how much you eat while drinking. Here’s a breakdown of how alcohol affects blood sugar levels:

  • Initial Increase — When you consume alcohol, it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and raises blood sugar levels temporarily. This initial increase in blood sugar happens because of the conversion of alcohol into sugar.
  • Subsequent Decrease — Blood sugar levels drop when the liver, responsible for regulating blood sugar, prioritizes alcohol metabolism over glucose production. As a result, less glucose is released into the bloodstream, lowering blood sugar levels.
  • Delayed Hypoglycemia — If you have diabetes and take insulin or certain oral medications to lower blood sugar, alcohol consumption can increase your risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) because alcohol can interfere with the liver’s ability to release stored glucose, essential in preventing hypoglycemia.
  • Impact on Gluconeogenesis — Gluconeogenesis is the liver’s process of producing glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. Alcohol consumption can disrupt this process, impairing the liver’s ability to regulate blood sugar effectively.
  • Interactions with Medications — Some medications used to manage diabetes can interact negatively with alcohol, potentially leading to adverse effects on blood sugar control. For example, alcohol combined with certain diabetes medications can increase the risk of hypoglycemia.

The effects of alcohol on blood sugar levels can vary among individuals. Factors such as overall health, drinking patterns, and underlying medical conditions can influence how alcohol affects blood sugar regulation.

Does Alcoholism Cause Blood Sugar Complications?

Regular and excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with blood sugar control and overall health. Some complications associated with alcohol consumption include:

  • Hypoglycemia — Alcohol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in individuals with diabetes, especially if they take insulin or certain oral medications that increase insulin production.
  • Weight Gain — Alcoholic beverages are often high in calories and can contribute to weight gain, a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Liver Damage — Excessive alcohol consumption can damage the liver, impairing its ability to regulate blood sugar levels effectively.

Alcohol Consumption & Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps control the amount of sugar (or glucose) in our blood. Glucose is a type of sugar that our body needs for energy. When you eat, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream, where it helps glucose enter the body’s cells so it can be used as fuel to give us energy. Insulin also helps keep our blood sugar levels in a safe range. Your blood sugar level rises when you eat, and insulin helps bring it back to normal.

Insulin sensitivity refers to the body’s ability to effectively respond to and utilize insulin. Chronic alcohol consumption can impair insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, moderate alcohol consumption has been suggested to have potential benefits in improving insulin response in some studies.

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Can Drinking Moderately Improve Insulin Response?

Moderate alcohol consumption, defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, has been associated with potential improvements in insulin response in certain studies. These studies have observed that moderate alcohol consumption may increase insulin sensitivity, enhance glucose uptake by cells, and improve lipid metabolism.

One possible explanation for these potential benefits is the existence of specific compounds in alcoholic beverages, like polyphenols found in red wine. Polyphenols are connected to various health advantages, such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. These effects might contribute to better insulin sensitivity, the body’s ability to respond to insulin.

Alcohol elevates high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, commonly known as “good” cholesterol. Higher HDL cholesterol levels have improved insulin sensitivity and decreased the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

Side Effects & Symptoms of Alcohol on Prediabetes

Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be classified as diabetes. Alcohol consumption can intensify the risk factors associated with prediabetes and potentially lead to type 2 diabetes. Symptoms of alcohol-induced prediabetes may include:

  • Increased thirst.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Fatigue.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Increased hunger.
  • Slow healing of wounds.

Is Alcohol-Induced Diabetes Reversible?

Alcohol-induced diabetes, often associated with heavy and prolonged alcohol abuse, is generally reversible with abstinence from alcohol. However, it is crucial to note that the recovery process may take time, and individuals should consult healthcare professionals for guidance and support.

Risks of Alcohol Consumption as a Diabetic

For individuals with diabetes, alcohol consumption poses specific risks. These include:

  • Hypoglycemia — Alcohol can cause blood sugar levels to drop too low, especially when consumed without adequate food or with certain diabetes medications.
  • Impaired Judgment — Excessive alcohol consumption can impair judgment and decision-making abilities, leading to poor dietary choices and medication mismanagement, which can negatively impact blood sugar control.
  • Increased Risk of Complications — Alcohol can worsen diabetes-related complications such as nerve damage, kidney disease, and eye problems.

Can Quitting Alcohol Lower Blood Sugar?

If you have diabetes, quitting or reducing alcohol consumption can contribute to improved blood sugar control. Reducing alcohol intake can positively impact weight management, insulin sensitivity, and overall health. Consulting with healthcare professionals to create an individualized plan that considers overall health, medications, and specific needs is essential.

Alcohol consumption can affect blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, and overall diabetes management. While moderate alcohol consumption may have potential benefits, excessive and prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to complications and an increased risk of developing diabetes. If you have diabetes, it is crucial to understand the risks associated with alcohol consumption and to consult healthcare professionals for personalized guidance. Quitting or reducing alcohol intake and a healthy lifestyle can contribute to better blood sugar control and overall well-being.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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