Type 1 diabetes shouldn't get in the way of a great night. Here are some tips to help you make sure it doesn't.
First thing's first: the principles of sensible drinking apply whether you have diabetes or not. It’s safest not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. You can read more at drinkaware.co.uk
And when you have Type 1 diabetes, there are some extra things to think about to make sure you’re safe. Drinking alcohol can make managing blood sugar levels more tricky, and increase your risk of hypos while you're drinking and the day after.
We've brought together tips from young adults and guidance to help you manage your diabetes so nothing gets in the way of having a great time.
Before a night out
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eating a carb-containing meal like pasta before a night out drinking will help balance your blood sugar levels.
- Get all your diabetes kit and hypo treatments ready in advance, especially if you’re pre-drinking. It'll help you avoid forgetting any of your essentials, or having a mad rush when the taxi arrives.
- Make sure the friends you are with know about your diabetes and what to do if you have a hypo.
- Check your blood sugar level before you go out.
- Make sure you have a pint of water and your hypo treatments ready next to your bed for when you get home.
On a night out
- Pace yourself and check your blood sugar level regularly so you can catch any hypos early.
- Have diet or sugar-free mixers with any spirits. There's more information about different types of alcohol and the affect they might have on your sugar levels on the main alcohol page. Remember that physical activity often makes blood sugar levels drop. This includes dancing or walking around town trying to find a place to go.
- You might need some snacks to keep your blood sugar level up – make sure you always have hypo treatments with you.
- At the end of the night, eat some carb-containing food to help avoid getting a hypo. Stop off for a kebab or chips, or have a snack when you get home.
After a night out and the morning after
- Check your sugar level before you go to bed. If you are low make sure you treat your hypo before falling asleep.
- Hypos are more likely throughout the next day after drinking. This is because your liver is still breaking down the toxins from the alcohol you've drunk, and can't freely release glucose as it normally would when your blood glucose levels drop.
- Keep checking your sugar level throughout the next day, to catch any hypos early.
- Adjust your insulin as you need to – your diabetes team can advise you.
- Drink plenty of water.
If you'd like to share your tips on Type 1 diabetes and drinking, complete our story form.
Pace yourself and you'll have a great night
"I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a few days before my 18th birthday. It meant spending my birthday night out sober, but I still had a brilliant time and remember everything which is a bonus!
"I did find it difficult to adjust to drinking and diabetes. I have to pace myself much more than my friends. If I'm going to a house party or drinking at home I avoid sharing a bottle of spirits with mates because it's really difficult to keep track of how much I've drunk.
"For a big night out I find that starting on slimline gin and tonic helps keep my blood sugars stable. If my levels start to drop later on I'll switch to full sugar drinks and make sure I get some chips on the way home. And I try to remember to leave a bottle of water and my diabetes kit and hypo treatments by my bed, so I wake up the next morning with everything I need.
"This routine is not dissimilar to what my friends want from a night out too: gin, a boogie, then chips. To pace myself I just need to check my sugars regularly and thankfully I’ve never had a bad experience."
Isobel is 21 years old and a masters year student studying mechanical engineering at The University of Edinburgh.
Don't go out drinking without your essentials
"I was having a few drinks at the pub one evening and realised I'd forgotten my insulin injections. I had my blood sugar meter and as I was only out for a few hours I decided it would be fine.
"I ended up having one too many and decided to carry on partying the night away at a club, before crashing at a friend's house. My phone battery had died and neither of us had a charger so I couldn't tell my family, who I lived with.
"My mum and sister found my insulin at home, and when they couldn't get in touch with me they panicked and sent a search party out. When I got back the next morning they told me just how stupid I'd been.
"I well and truly learnt my lesson. Now I always make sure I take all my diabetes supplies out every time, as well as a phone charger and a power bank as back up."
David was diagnosed when he was 19 years old and is on the Diabetes UK young adults panel.
Go on an education course
"When I first started drinking I didn't test my blood sugar levels much.
"I used to wing it and hope for the best. I loved drinking cocktails but would often end up feeling really sluggish and tired with high blood sugar levels. Some nights out ended early because I felt so rubbish.
"This year I went on a DAFNE education course. I learnt about how alcohol affects your blood sugar levels when you have Type 1 diabetes, and that when you're drinking you often don't need as much insulin as you're more likely to have a hypo.
"Now I always test before a night out and while I'm out to make sure I can stay on top of my levels. And my friends know to keep an eye out too."
Rakhee was diagnosed when she was six years old.
Always carry hypo treatments
"I can remember one time when my diabetes hit on a night out. I was in the middle of a club and felt... odd. More than the normal 'drunk'.
"My hands were shaking and I started to sweat – my usual hypo symptoms. But what I did next was stupid. Instead of getting a sugary drink from the bar, I decided to run two miles back to my uni accommodation to grab some food.
"It was totally stupid and unsafe. All my friends were still in the club and could've helped me out. Next thing I remember I was sitting on the curb drinking a huge bottle of fizzy drink in massive gulps to treat my hypo.
"In hindsight I shouldn't have drunk so much – even without diabetes! It's easy to get caught up in that heavy drinking culture when you're at uni and not recognise the stress you're putting your body under. My lifestyle did catch up with me in the end. As a positive, it made me get into gear and now I feel more in control of my diabetes than I've ever been."
Rick is 26 years old and was diagnosed when he was four. At university he was the captain of the rugby team.
Be prepared for mishaps
"I spent my 21st birthday in a nightclub with friends. I danced the night away, tested my levels regularly and had an amazing time.
"I didn't get too drunk – unlike my friend, who wasn't the most steady on her feet! I was helping her walk home when she tripped, dragging me down with her.
"We just laughed and didn't think much of it. But once I got back to my flat I went to check my blood sugar and realised something was horribly wrong. My blood glucose machine had smashed in the fall.
"I was a bit tipsy and started to panic. I hadn't thought to bring a spare with me to uni. It was 3am so I called the out of hours doctor service, and they suggested I went to hospital as I'd been drinking so I could be monitored.
"They sorted me out with a new blood glucose machine, and I've learnt to always have a spare with me, whether I'm going on holiday or staying away from home for a while."
Claudia is 22 years old and was diagnosed when she was three years old. She is from Belfast.