There’s a misconception that diabetics should not consume alcohol, but the American Diabetes Association actually approves of diabetics having a drink or two. However, alcohol is not a typical carbohydrate, and understanding its relationship to blood sugar levels and diabetes is paramount to using it responsibly.
The body processes alcohol differently from other foods and beverages. After drinking a beer or a glass of wine, the alcohol is absorbed quickly through the lining of the stomach or the gut and flows directly into the blood stream. The liver (not the stomach) is responsible for metabolizing alcohol, but it can only process about one drink per hour. The remaining alcohol circulates through the bloodstream, which is why blood-alcohol level is a key indicator of intoxication. But the liver’s primary responsibility is to store and manufacture glucose, and to make sure that the proper amount of sugar is also circulating through the bloodstream.
For diabetics, alcohol in moderation is perfectly healthy, but drinking to the point of intoxication can result in serious problems. Drinking too much alcohol can “distract” the liver by forcing it metabolize the constant flow of alcohol, which disrupts the organ’s ability to properly regulate blood sugar levels. But for diabetics, a more common side effect of alcohol consumption is that it diverts attention from their carefully crafted wellness plans. Many diabetes treatment strategies require strict patient discipline and involvement, but a study tracking 65,996 adults diagnosed with diabetes found that any “alcohol consumption is a marker for poorer adherence to diabetes self-care behaviors.”
Here are nine things you need to know about alcohol and diabetes.