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Type 1 diabetes and drinking

Whether it’s a trip to the pub, a few drinks to unwind at home on a Friday night, dinner out or a weekend away at a festival, having a drink or two is all part of life for most people.

You’ll be glad to hear it doesn’t have to be any different just because you have Type 1 diabetes. But there are a few things you need to bear in mind to make sure you stay healthy.    

Advice for managing your diabetes when drinking alcohol:

  • Be prepared. Get your diabetes kit and hypo treatments ready and check your blood sugar level before you start drinking
  • Make sure you check your blood sugar levels regularly throughout the night
  • Tell your new friends you have diabetes and what to do if you have a hypo
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eating foods that have carbs in them like a sandwich before a night out will help avoid a hypo. 
  • Remember that eating isn’t cheating. Make sure you carry snacks with you just in case, and eat before you go to bed
  • Stick to diet mixers
  • Dancing is exercise so remember that it can make your blood sugar levels drop. If you’re walking around from venue to venue, this also counts. 
  • Drink plenty of water when you get home, and check your blood sugar levels
  • If you have a hypo, treat it before you fall asleep
  • We have more information in-depth information on drinking alcohol here. 

Drinking at university

Going out at university happens for the majority of us, and this often includes drinking. Most universities will have a dedicated Freshers Week where they host different night outs during the week.
 
Freshers’ Week can be quite boozy. Don’t feel pressured to drink alcohol at every opportunity, but Type 1 diabetes shouldn’t get in the way of a great night. Jess and Gavin chat to each other about what they do to make sure they look after their diabetes while they’re out below. 
 

 

How much can I drink? 

The government guidelines for alcohol are the same for everyone with and without diabetes which is 14 units a week.   

How much is one unit of alcohol?

  • A standard pub measure (25ml) of vodka counts as one unit.
  • A 125ml glass of wine (9 per cent) counts as one unit.
  • Half a pint of beer, lager or cider (3.5 per cent) is one unit, too, but be aware that many beer and wines often have a higher alcohol content than this.

On a night out, it’s important to pace yourself and make sure you know what your blood sugar levels are doing throughout the night. Drinkaware has a handy calculator you can use to see exactly how many units your favourite drinks have.

Can drinking make me have a hypo?

Drinking alcohol and hypos are common on nights out if you’re not careful. This is because managing your blood sugar levels can be tricky if you’re drinking and you have Type 1 diabetes. Alcohol, particularly lots of alcohol, can make your blood sugar drop too low, leading to a hypo when you’re drinking or the day after.

There are different things you can do to help avoid having hypos when you’re out or the day after including eating carbs, changing the type of drinks you choose. Tom and Emma speak about what they do before a night out to make sure they look after their diabetes. 

 

After a night out and the morning after

Always have some breakfast if you've been drinking the night before, even if you don't feel like it. This will help your blood sugar levels and might make you feel better.

Make sure check your blood sugar levels in the morning too because some hangover symptoms (such as headache, feeling sick, sweating and shaking) are similar to the symptoms you get with a hypo.

No matter how awful you feel, if it's a hypo you need to treat it straight away. Don't ignore it.

 

Your tips

Pace yourself and you'll have a great night

Isobel:

"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."

 

Always carry hypo treatments

Rick:

"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 kerb 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."

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