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Alcohol and Health

Does Alcohol Raise Blood Sugar?

June 28, 2023
11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 28, 2023
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 28, 2023
11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 28, 2023
11 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 28, 2023
11 min read

An intriguing puzzle resides within our body. It's a complex, delicate system of interconnecting parts, all working to maintain our well-being. Our blood sugar balance, governed by insulin and glucose, is a key piece of this puzzle. Throw alcohol into this intricate mix, and it might just disrupt the equilibrium. 

So, let's delve into this intriguing question: does alcohol raise blood sugar? The short answer is yes. However, we need to fully understand what’s going on here so we can make empowered decisions on our cutback or alcohol-free journey. At the same time, we can address a related question: can diabetics drink alcohol?

The Role of Insulin and Glucose

A person checking blood sugar level

Understanding our blood sugar means understanding two key players: insulin and glucose. Insulin, a hormone made by our pancreas, is like a guide that leads glucose — our body's primary energy source — into our cells. This glucose is necessary fuel for all our activities, from running a marathon to simply breathing. Furthermore, glucose plays a major role in our cognition: it allows us to think clearly and make complex decisions. Without enough glucose, we feel sluggish, irritable, and a bit brain foggy. 

The Impact of Alcohol

Consuming alcohol is like tossing a wildcard into this finely tuned system. Does alcohol lower blood sugar or does alcohol raise blood sugar? Alcohol can cause the pancreas to produce less insulin, which can result in temporarily elevated blood sugar levels. Additionally, alcohol can decrease our cells' sensitivity to insulin, leading to a condition called insulin resistance, which can also elevate blood sugar levels. As we continue to drink habitually, our body’s blood sugar regulation gets significantly impaired. In the long run, this can lead to type 2 diabetes. Alcohol and diabetes can be a dangerous combination. 

Effects of Elevated Blood Sugar

Blood sugar elevations can seriously damage our health, both in the short term and over time. Here are some adverse effects that can occur.

Short-term effects of elevated blood sugar:

  • Increased thirst. When our blood sugar is high, our kidneys work overtime to process and flush out the excess sugar, which can lead to increased thirst.
  • Frequent urination. Along with increased thirst, high blood sugar can result in more frequent urination as the body tries to expel the excess sugar.
  • Blurred vision. Excess sugar can pull fluid from our tissues, including the lenses of our eyes, leading to difficulty focusing and blurred vision.
  • Fatigue. High blood sugar means not all glucose is making it into our cells. This deprives the body of energy, causing tiredness and fatigue.
  • Headaches. High blood sugar levels can lead to dehydration and cause headaches.

Long-term effects of elevated blood sugar:

  • Heart disease. Persistently high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves that control the heart, leading to heart disease over time.
  • Kidney damage (nephropathy). The kidneys' filtering system can be damaged by excess blood sugar, leading to kidney disease or kidney failure in severe cases.
  • Vision problems. High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels in the retina, causing diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness if left untreated.
  • Nerve damage (Neuropathy). Excess sugar can injure the walls of capillaries that nourish our nerves, particularly in the legs, causing tingling, numbness, pain, or weakness.
  • Slow healing. High blood sugar can affect our blood flow and cause nerve damage, leading to slow wound healing.

Can Diabetics Drink Alcohol?

Now we come to a related question — can diabetics drink alcohol? Specifically, can diabetics drink beer? Or is beer bad for diabetics? And what about wine or hard liquor?

In general, those of us with diabetes can consume alcohol in moderation, but we need to be cautious and mindful of its effects on blood sugar levels. Light beers are a better option, as are dry wines. And while hard liquor doesn’t contain any sugar, the mixers it’s combined with often do, so it’s best to go with the sugar-free varieties for those who do choose to drink.

Five Ways To Maintain Balanced Blood Sugar

So, we now know the damaging effects of high blood sugar on our health. But how can we take steps on our cutback or alcohol-free journeys to mitigate this effect?

  1. Moderation is key. In the case of alcohol and blood sugar, mindful drinking is crucial. Limiting your alcohol intake can help maintain blood sugar levels within a healthy range. This is especially important if you’re at a risk for type 2 diabetes. 

  2. Choose wisely. All alcoholic drinks are not created equal. Sweet cocktails and certain beers pack a high sugar punch, which could send our blood sugar soaring. As you decide which beverages you would like to continue consuming, keep this in mind. Wine can have up to 14 g of sugar per glass. And how about how much sugar in beer? Usually none, but it can be up to 5 g. Keep an eye out for sugar in non-alcoholic beer — it can be much higher than you’d expect!

  3. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eating food before drinking can slow down alcohol absorption, reducing its impact on our blood sugar levels. Choose slow-digesting foods, such as complex carbs, high-quality protein, and healthy fats. Avoid greasy options like burgers or fried chicken. 

  4. Hydration helps. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect, which can affect blood sugar. Staying hydrated helps balance our system. Drink plenty of water before consuming any alcohol, and if you do choose to have two drinks, be sure to drink a full glass of water between and after them. 

  5. Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity improves insulin sensitivity, helping our bodies better manage blood sugar levels — even when we've had a drink. When we maintain a consistent exercise routine, our body is more adept at handling the blood sugar fluctuations caused by alcohol.

The Takeaways

As we venture down the path of reducing or eliminating alcohol, we unlock the possibility of better managing our blood sugar levels and creating a healthier lifestyle. You might be surprised by how long alcohol affects blood sugar: up to 12 hours, so following these tips can make a big impact.

Our health is a complex, ever-evolving puzzle. Each choice we make is a piece of this puzzle, shaping the bigger picture of our well-being. By understanding the effects of alcohol on our blood sugar levels and making decisions to manage it, we're building a better, healthier picture. Here's to putting together the pieces for a healthier, happier life!

Restore Balance With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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