Alcoholism and Type 2 Diabetes: Does Alcoholism Cause Diabetes?
Alcoholism and diabetes type 2 can be a very dangerous combination. Alcoholism and heavy drinking can cause type 2 diabetes. Additionally, for people who already have either type of diabetes—type 1 or type 2—heavy alcohol consumption can worsen the disease. This look at the mix of alcohol and diabetes is designed to increase understanding of alcohol’s effect on diabetes in order to inform lifestyle choices.
There’s a difference between occasional moderate alcohol consumption and alcoholism and/or heavy drinking. It’s alcoholism and heavy drinking that pose health dangers, including diabetes. Indeed, “Diabetes mellitus is recognized clinically as a complication of alcoholism” (Kim & Kim, 2012). Multiple factors explain why alcoholism can cause diabetes type 2 ("What Causes Diabetes?").
The Relationship Between Alcoholism and Type 2 Diabetes
Heavy drinking, whether binge drinking, excessive daily drinking, or both damages the body in many ways. A brief description of what happens in diabetes can help put alcohol’s effects in perspective.
Diabetes is a disease involving metabolism. When we eat carbohydrates, they’re digested into blood sugar called glucose. In healthy functioning, an organ called the pancreas makes and releases insulin into the bloodstream to meet glucose and help it enter the body’s cells where it’s used for energy. That process goes awry in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, however, resulting in hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Glucose and insulin problems cause other serious health conditions as well.
Now let’s add alcoholism and heavy drinking to the mix and see how they increase the dangers of diabetes:
- Impaired liver function, which leads to depleted blood glucose levels
- Insulin resistance
- Decreased or obliterated glycemic control (the ability to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range)
- Pancreatitis, a disease that damages the pancreas and interferes in insulin production
- Disruption of carbohydrates and glucose metabolism
- Weight gain and obesity, major causes of type 2 diabetes, due to the high calorie content in alcohol
- Hypoglycemia, which can begin within minutes of the first drink and continue for up to 12 hours after stopping
Heavy drinking and diabetes each cause other health problems. Together, their damage can be extensive. Alcoholism and diabetes complications include, but aren’t limited to:
- Nerve damage (neuropathy)
- Eye damage (retinopathy)
- High blood pressure
- Increased triglycerides (fatty acids that increase risk of stroke)
- Liver damage (cirrhosis)
Alcohol can also interact with diabetes medications. Many diabetes medications are designed to lower blood glucose levels, and because alcohol also lowers blood sugar, hypoglycemia can result. Blood sugar can drop so low that it causes insulin shock, a condition that can be fatal without swift treatment.
Does Alcohol Always Cause Diabetes Problems? Not Necessarily
One thing to note is that the amount of alcohol consumed matters. Studies have shown that light drinking or abstinence has no effect on diabetes, heavy drinking can cause or worsen it, but moderate drinking may have protective factors.
Research indicates that moderate drinking can reduce the risk of diabetes development by 30 -40 percent (Carlsson, et al., 2003). Further research is needed to discover the reason moderate alcohol consumption seems to have protective factors for diabetes. Moderate drinking is defined as five to 29.9 g/day in men and five to 19.9 g/day in women.
It seems that other factors matter as well. Alcohol appears to affect men and women differently. Body type and weight make a difference in how drinking affects diabetes. Much is still not well understood, and research is ongoing to deepen understanding of alcoholism and type 2 diabetes.
Drinking and Diabetes: Use Precautions
Having diabetes doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t drink alcohol. Drinking and diabetes type 2 or diabetes type 1 is possible with some precautions:
- Stick to moderate drinking
- Count carbs while drinking because too many leads to hypoglycemia
- Monitor your glucose levels frequently
- When glucose drops, eat something low-carb
- Wear a medical alert bracelet, as hypoglycemia symptoms are similar to intoxication (you want to avoid being dismissed as drunk if you need medical attention for hypoglycemia)
Alcoholism can cause diabetes type 2, and it can worsen the effects of both types of diabetes. If you are struggling with alcoholism, seeking treatment can improve your health and quality of life.
Peterson, T. (2022, January 4). Alcoholism and Type 2 Diabetes: Does Alcoholism Cause Diabetes?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/diabetes/mental-health/alcoholism-and-type-2-diabetes-does-alcoholism-cause-diabetes