If you’ve ever wondered whether alcohol can cause diabetes, we’ll give you the quick answer: yes, excessive drinking can increase our risk for developing diabetic conditions. However, there is more to the story than this simple statement, so we hope you’ll read on to learn more about how alcohol affects our internal bodily systems. We’ll also take a look at how we can manage our alcohol consumption to reduce the risk of diabetes and other conditions.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic medical condition in which the pancreas either produces too little insulin or the body isn’t processing insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to convert glucose (sugar) into energy, and this is obviously an essential process for our daily lives. People who have diabetic conditions have to keep a close eye on their blood sugar levels in order to prevent a host of serious problems from developing, such as vision problems, kidney damage, and an increased risk of heart disease and even stroke.
Diabetes has an effect on multiple body systems, ranging from the heart to the blood vessels, the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and even our skin. Diabetes also can create digestive issues ranging from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) to bloating, nausea, constipation, or diarrhea. There are three main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, causing the body's immune system to attack insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells, resulting in high blood glucose levels. This condition accounts for roughly 5-10% of people who have diabetes, and it’s usually diagnosed in younger people, starting with children and going into young adulthood. There is no known prevention for type 1 diabetes, and if you have it, you must monitor and supplement your insulin on a daily basis. You’re especially at risk of type 1 diabetes if you have a parent or sibling who has this condition.
- Type 2 diabetes. In this version of the condition, which comprises the vast majority of people who have diabetes, the body uses insulin inefficiently and so blood sugar isn’t maintained at proper levels. Type 2 diabetes develops over a longer period of time and is normally diagnosed in people over age 45. There aren’t many noticeable symptoms so it’s important to keep an eye on your blood sugar, especially if you’re at higher risk for this condition (i.e., if you’re age 45 or older, if you have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes, if you’re not physically active, and if you’re overweight, among other factors). The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be slowed down, prevented, and even reversed by losing weight, eating healthfully, and getting regular exercise.
- Gestational diabetes. This kind of diabetes affects some pregnant women who have never had diabetes, but it goes away after the baby is born. Gestational diabetes places the unborn baby at greater risk of developing health problems like childhood obesity or even diabetes, and the mother is also at greater risk for type 2 diabetes after the pregnancy.
There is also a condition known as prediabetes, and this affects an astounding number of people in the U.S. 96 million adults (over 1 in 3) have this condition, and most don’t even realize it. With prediabetes, blood sugar is higher than normal but not enough to warrant a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Thankfully, making lifestyle changes like the ones discussed above with type 2 diabetes can lower our risk for developing this condition or even reverse it if we have it.
Heavy Drinking and Diabetes
Research shows that there is a link between heavy drinking and diabetes, and there are three main ways this occurs:
- Drinking heavily on a regular basis can reduce our body’s sensitivity to insulin, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
- Heavy drinking can also cause chronic pancreatitis, which can lead to diabetes as a side effect.
- Because drinks with alcohol are often high in calories, the more we drink, the greater our risk of becoming overweight, which also increases our risk of type 2 diabetes.
Drinking mindfully isn’t as likely to lead to the development of diabetes — the major concern is excessive use of alcohol. Keep reading to learn the recommended daily maximum for alcohol consumption.
How Can We Limit Our Risk of Diabetes?
In order to mitigate our risk of developing a diabetic condition, if we’re going to drink, it’s best for us to consume alcohol only in moderation. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. Drinking more than this level can increase our risk of developing diabetes, among many other medical conditions.
If you’re at risk of diabetes or you already have been diagnosed, then you should also take into account what kind of alcoholic drinks you’re consuming, because beer and mixed drinks can have the biggest effect on blood sugar. It’s also important to eat healthfully if you drink alcohol because if you drink on an empty stomach, you’re more likely to have a rapid increase in your blood sugar, and getting most of our calories from alcohol causes problems of its own.
Additionally, remaining active is a great way to limit our risk of diabetes because we are giving our bodies the exercise they need to properly process the carbohydrates we have consumed. If you have any questions at all about your risk for diabetes, it’s very important that you speak to your doctor — and especially if you’ve already been diagnosed, then we strongly recommend that you consult with a physician who can give you medical advice about how much is safe to drink. We also have a great blog post called “6 Things To Remember About Drinking Alcohol If You Have Diabetes,” which can give you some helpful tips for living with diabetes.
If you’ve been drinking heavily, we encourage you to consider cutting back for the sake of your health. We know this isn’t easy to think about, and it’s even harder to do — but we’ve successfully helped hundreds of thousands of people who wanted to change how they were drinking. Most of all, we want you to know that you’re not alone, and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re caught in a cycle of drinking too much alcohol. It’s a highly addictive substance and so there is nothing wrong with you for becoming dependent on it! Again, consult with your doctor to develop a plan for drinking less so that you can cut back in a safe manner. In some cases, stopping drinking altogether can be dangerous, so seek professional advice before you change your drinking habits.
How Can Reframe Help?
If you’ve been looking for a way to drink less that doesn’t necessarily involve doing a program in person with other people, then the Reframe app might be a good solution for you. With Reframe, you can go at your own pace and we don’t pressure you or use guilt to make you feel bad for what you’re drinking. After all, it’s your life, and you’re perfectly capable of choosing what to drink and why! We just want to come alongside you to teach you the science behind alcohol so that you can make informed decisions about what you’re putting into your body. We have both a cutback track and a quit track, depending on what your goals are.
Reframe is a vibrant community of people all across the world who are just like you — people who want to explore their relationship with alcohol to see whether drinking less makes sense. We give you daily readings and activities so that you learn the neuroscience of alcohol in bite-sized amounts. There’s also an in-app Toolkit which is full of resources for your everyday life — with guided meditations and other activities for situations like cravings, you’ll be set up for success on your path.
With the Reframe app, you’ll also have access to daily check-in calls via Zoom with other Reframers, and in this safe space (where you can remain anonymous if you want to!) you’ll hear stories from your peers about the struggles and victories they’re experiencing in their own alcohol-conscious journeys. You’ll also be able to connect with our licensed coaches, and even our newest feature: Melody, our AI chat support, who can help you through any situation without the need to speak to another human.
If you’re ready to drink less and live more, then try the Reframe app free for 7 days! We want you to find new life and become the healthiest, happiest you. Download Reframe now!