Alcohol and diabetes
For most people with diabetes, drinking alcohol is safe although it is advisable to drink only in moderation and stick within the recommended limits applied to the general population. These are no more than 3 or 4 units of alcohol per day for men, and no more than 2 or 3 units for women.
As a general rule, one pint of ordinary strength lager, bitter or cider contains 2 units of alcohol, whereas a pint of strong lager, bitter or cider contains 3 units. A glass of wine contains 2 units, alcopops about 1.5 units, and a pub measure of spirits contains 1 unit. (An online alcohol unit calculator is available at the DrinkAware website; see Useful Links on the right of this page).
Advice when drinking alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can cause low blood glucose (hypos), and this risk persists for several hours after drinking. This is one reason why it is important not to skip meals while drinking or drink on an empty stomach. The body processes alcohol more slowly when food is present and this reduces the risk of having very high levels of alcohol in the blood. People who take insulin should eat carbohydrates alongside alcohol, and be aware that drinking in the evening can lead to overnight hypos. Having a snack before going to bed is advisable after a night of heavy drinking. Alcohol should be avoided before or after exercising.
Some alcoholic drinks contain particularly high amounts of sugar. People with diabetes should limit their intake of sweeter drinks such as sweet sherries or sweet wines and liqueurs, and choose diet or sugar-free mixers instead of sugary alternatives. Remember also that alcoholic drinks contain calories and that drinking less can help weight loss.
Persistent heavy drinking leads to a number of problems, including greater risk of hyperglycaemia in people with diabetes. In addition, some people are advised to avoid alcohol altogether, such as pregnant women or those who have another medical condition for which alcohol presents specific risks, for example people with very high triglycerides or severe nerve damage.
Light or moderate alcohol use on the other hand has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The reason for this is not clear.