Drinking alcohol safely with type 1 diabetes

What young adults with type 1 diabetes should know about the effects of alcohol.

A group of four young adults sitting on a restaurant patio, socializing and drinking.

Before young adults with type 1 diabetes decide to drink alcohol, they should understand how alcohol affects their blood sugar. Initially, alcohol may cause a temporary spike in blood sugar levels, but drinking alcohol usually causes blood sugar to go down. Hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar) occurs because the liver kicks in and works on ridding the body of the alcohol first and is slower to release glucose into the system causing low blood sugar. According to the Diabetes Teaching Center at the University of California, San Francisco, it takes approximately 1 to 1 ½ hours for the liver to process one drink. It’s during that processing time when people with diabetes are at risk for low blood sugar. If they have two drinks, they would be at risk for two to three hours. The more drinks someone has, the length of time they are at risk for low blood sugar increases.

The College Diabetes Network provides additional information for young adults about the effects of alcohol and tips for staying safe:

  • Eat before drinking alcohol and eat some carbohydrate-containing snacks, such as a sandwich or chips, while drinking.
  • Tell a trusted friend that they have diabetes and how to treat low blood sugar if it occurs.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or other sugar-free drinks to avoid dehydration.
  • Wear a diabetes ID bracelet or necklace, because low blood sugar can be mistaken for drunkenness.
  • Eat before going to bed after a night of drinking. Alcohol stays in the system for a while, so low blood sugar can occur after going to sleep. Eat something with fat and protein, such as chips with dip, cheese, nuts, etc.
  • Test frequently when drinking. If alcohol consumption causes vomiting, test at least once an hour for several hours while drinking non-alcoholic beverages and eating some crackers, cereal, bread, etc. If unable to keep food down and hypoglycemia occurs, they should follow their health care providers guidance to treat low blood sugar. If nothing is working, someone should call 9-1-1.
  • Be aware of contraindications of medications, such as pain relievers, while taking diabetes medication or using a continuous glucose monitor. Acetaminophen can cause monitors to read inaccurately for several hours.

Michigan State University Extension has many other articles that address topics related to type 1 diabetes in youth and young adults, such as symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children. For more information, visit MSU Extension's Diabetes website.

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