Type 2 diabetes and drinking alcohol

When I was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes I resolved to get the disease under control. So I took diabetic education classes offered by the local hospital, started carb counting and began a steady weight loss regimen. Because I enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, I asked the diabetes educator about drinking alcohol. I noticed that my oral medication, metformin, had a label that cautioned against alcohol use while taking it. I was told that an occasional drink while on metformin should not be harmful, but that I should ask myself three questions before taking a drink:

  1. Is my blood sugar under control?
  2. Do I know how alcohol can affect my diabetes?
  3. Has my physician told me that I have complications or health issues that alcohol will exacerbate?

How does alcohol affect blood sugar?

The diabetic education classes and the big binder full of information they provided helped me to learn how alcohol is absorbed by the body. Rather than being metabolized in the stomach, it passes straight into the bloodstream and is metabolized by the liver. While the liver is busy doing this, it can't regulate blood sugar. So medications that stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin can cause low blood sugar. Under other conditions, alcohol can cause high blood sugar. So I determined that drinking alcohol wasn't a good idea unless I had my blood sugar under tight control. So while I was getting my numbers where they needed to be (as indicated by the glucose meter and the scale), I didn't drink alcohol. I think my abstinence helped with the weight loss as well.

I have not been a hard liquor drinker for many years, so I didn't have to worry about high-calorie mixed drinks like margaritas or drinks with high-sugar mixers. I did have a beer a few times while on the metformin and didn't notice any ill effects or spikes in my blood sugar. After I had lost the weight and gotten off the medication, I went back to having a glass of wine or a beer with dinner on a fairly regular basis.

As the diabetic information folder and several authoritative websites suggest, I always have food while drinking alcohol. The food helps to slow the glucose-lowering effect of the alcohol. I remembered an old saying attributed to Dorothy Parker: "Drink, like ink, needs a blotter." It's still good advice, even if most of the population today has no concept of fountain pens and blotters.

About Roger Diez

Roger Diez was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in September 2008. He subsequently lost 40 pounds and is now happy to share he is off medication and controls his diabetes through diet and exercise.

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