Diabetes and Alcohol

Everybody wondered why “Stan” kept drinking, even after his doctor told him that he had developed Type II diabetes.
While the recommendation for diabetics is to avoid alcohol, moderate amounts of alcohol aren’t regarded as being dangerous for some, but for others any amount of alcohol raises the red flag. Even if alcohol is permitted for those that can have a drink, it is not recommended unless their blood sugar levels are under control. So what is a moderate amount? One 12-ounce beer is acceptable, or a five-ounce glass of wine, or a single 1.5-ounce shot of liquor. The key is for diabetics to understand exactly what the effects of alcohol are going to be on their body before taking a drink.
But recommendations and moderation weren’t in Stan’s vocabulary and even faced with the diagnosis, Stan went into denial and continued is drinking habit. He experienced some blurred vision, which he attributed to overwork. His blood pressure did not rise, and that’s usually an indicator of diabetic problems, but his blood sugar levels rose well over accepted levels. After a few months, Stan began having problems on the job. The combination of his drinking habit and the diabetes were creating problems and his doctor told him to curb the drinking. He was told that with diet and exercise, along with oral medication, his diabetes could easily be managed. Diabetes is a chronic disease, just like alcoholism. One is never cured of it, but they can manage it.
Stan’s heavy drinking, which is defined as three or more every day, was out of control, and the diabetic symptoms kept worsening. He experienced nerve damage, as his fingers and toes would go numb. His vision continued to weaken, but his desire to drink was greater than his desire to control the diabetes. It was almost as though he were compromising, and allowed the diabetic symptoms to ramp up.
Stan’s blood sugar levels (triglycerides) were high, but diabetics who take medication then drink run the risk of low blood sugar, which is a very serious condition. When blood sugar drops in the body the liver begins to produce glucose by drawing from the stored up carbohydrates. But alcohol prevents the liver from producing glucose. The American Diabetes Association warns people against drinking before eating to lessen the risk of low blood sugar. The liver actually cannot make glucose until all of the alcohol is flushed out of the system, because the liver thinks alcohol is a toxin and is trying to rid the body of it.
Stan was always looking for a compromise, as if he was making a deal between his abuse of alcohol and his diabetes. His denial of the diabetes, coupled with his denial of his heavy drinking, was like the perfect storm. It was not until a co-worker found him passed out on the job that Stan received any treatment for his drinking or his diabetes. Call if a wake-up call, but Stan found himself in the emergency room of the hospital. On top of everything else, his heart rate was rapid and the medical team suspected a heart attack. That was not the case, but the experience was enough to convince him that changes needed to be made. He was kept overnight for observation and released at noon the next day.
It’s not a game. It’s not “let’s make a deal” and the ramifications are serious. The American Diabetes Association recommends no alcohol. For someone who abuses alcohol, or is an alcoholic, the diabetes is like a double whammy. Two chronic diseases at once is a lot to handle, but managing one helps to manage the other. Bottom line, no drinks.

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About The Author, Ned Wicker
Ned Wicker is the Addictions Recovery Chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital Lawrence Center He author’s a website for alcoholism support:


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