Alcohol - drinking and diabetes

When you're having fun, it can be easy to get carried away and lose track of how much you're drinking. Whether you or a family member has diabetes or not, guidelines recommend:

  • Men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week - previously, this was up to 21 units a week for women and up to 28 units a week for men.
  • If you drink as much as 14 units a week, it is advised to spread this over three days or more.
  • If you want to cut down how much you're drinking, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week.
  • Pregnant women are advised that no level of alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy.

These guidelines are the same for all people, including those with diabetes.

What's in a unit?

The size of the glass and the type of alcohol affect the number of units. You can check units at www.drinkaware.co.uk.

1 1.5 1.5 1.7
Single measure of spirit Bottle of alcopop Small glass of wine Bottle of lager, beer or cider

Pub measure

(25ml) spirit, eg vodka, gin, whisky (40% ABV approx)

Bottle

(275ml) alcopop (5.5% ABV)

Small glass

(125ml) white, rosé or red wine (12% ABV)

Bottle

(330ml) lager, beer or cider (5% ABV)

2 2 2.1 3
Can of lager, beer or cider Pint of lager, beer or cider Medium glass of wine Large glass of wine

Can

(440ml) lager, beer or cider (3.6% ABV)

1 pint

lower-strength lager, beer or cider (3.6% ABV)

Medium glass

(175ml) white, rosé or red wine (12% ABV)

Large glass

(250ml) white, rosé or red wine (12% ABV)

There are a lot of calories in alcohol, so if you are trying to lose weight, you may want to drink less. Alcohol also makes hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose or ‘hypos’) more likely for those who treat their diabetes with insulin or tablets, such as sulphonylureas. Alcohol also slows down the release of glucose from the liver, which is what you need if you have a hypo.

But, that doesn’t mean you need to cut out alcohol completely. 

 

8 ways to prevent a hypo when drinking

  1. Don't drink on an empty stomach – eat something carbohydrate-based beforehand.
  2. You may need to eat some starchy food during the evening to keep your blood glucose levels up. 
  3. Tell the people you are with that you have diabetes and carry a medical ID.
  4. Take a hypo treatment with you
  5. Alternate alcoholic drinks with sparkling water, sugar-free lime and soda or diet drinks.
  6. Pace yourself – enjoy your drink slowly and keep track of how much you are drinking.
  7. Stick to your recommended daily units of alcohol.
  8. Check your blood glucose levels and adjust your insulin as you’ve been advised.
  9. Eat a starchy snack before going to bed and drink plenty of water.
 

The morning after

If you end up having one too many, drinking a pint of water before you go to bed will help to keep you hydrated and may help to prevent a hangover.

If you do wake up with a hangover, you’ll need to drink plenty of water. And if you are suffering the typical hangover symptoms of headache, nausea, shaking and sweating, check your blood glucose level as you may actually be having a hypo. No matter how awful you feel, you need to treat a hypo straight away – don’t ignore it. Stick to your usual medication. Always have some breakfast – it will help you keep control of your blood glucose.

If you can’t face food, or if you have been sick, take as much fluid as you can, including some sugary (non-diet) drinks.

Be aware

  • Continuous heavy drinking can lead to raised blood pressure, so try to limit your intake.
  • All types of alcoholic drinks contain calories, so if you are watching your weight cut back further.
  • Drinking alcohol can make neuropathy (nerve damage) worse.
  • Avoid low-sugar (sometimes called ‘diabetic’) beers and cider. Although they contain less sugar, alcohol content is higher. As little as one pint of a low-sugar beer can bring your blood alcohol level above the legal limit.
  • Low-alcohol wines are often higher in sugar than ordinary ones, so if you do choose these, just stick to a glass or two.
  • Drinks with a high sugar content, eg sweet sherries, sweet wines and liqueurs should be limited.
  • Mixer drinks should be ‘diet’ or ‘sugar-free’
  • High blood glucose levels, even if there are ketones present, will not affect a breathalyser machine.