Living with Diabetes

Diabetes and Alcohol

I have diabetes. Is it OK to drink alcohol...?

CartoonAlcohol in small amounts will not harm your control and can be safely enjoyed. You do need to take some precautions which are dealt with below.

What are the risks of taking excess alcohol...?

The main problems associated with alcohol and diabetes arise from hypoglycaemia. Alcohol through various mechanisms may make you more prone to hypoglycaemia if you are treated with insulin or tablets.

Drinking alcohol may result in your judgement being impaired. Many of the early warning symptoms of hypoglycaemia are mimicked by alcohol. Your friends may also mistake these hypoglycaemic symptoms for effects of alcohol and may not seek help until you lose consciousness. Your close friends should know that you are on treatment and that hypoglycaemia and drunken behaviour share many common features.

Alcohol may cause you to put on weight and can affect your overall control. Heavy drinkers are often overweight and have high blood sugars.

General precautions

  • Do not drink alcohol when your diabetes is poorly controlled - it is likely to make things worse
  • Keep your alcohol intake down if you want to lose weight. Alcohol is high in calories. A pint of beer contains as much as 180 calories.
  • Never drink on an empty stomach.
  • Do not drink after heavy exercise
  • Don't skip meals or delay meals when you drink alcohol - you can suffer a hypo many hours after a binge. Remember to check your blood glucose levels before you go to sleep.
  • Consider altering the carbohydrate content of your meal or your dose of insulin if you intend drinking
  • Drink slowly. Try alternating alcohol with a non-alcoholic beverage. This gives you a chance to deal with the alcohol you have already had.
  • Always carry glucose tablets or an alternative source of fast acting sugar
  • NEVER drink and drive.
  • If you drink regularly, maintain sensible limits. Remember alcohol in moderation may actually do some good!

A sensible drinking limit for people with (and without) diabetes is:

  • Men  - No more than 3 units per day = 21 units per week
  • Women - No more than 2 units per day = 14 units per week

Any drinks I should avoid...?

  • Avoid sweet drinks such as sherry, sweet wines and liqueurs.
  • Low alcohol beers or lagers may have a higher content of sugar and low sugar beers tend to have a higher alcohol content. Generally go for the ordinary beers or lagers.

How many calories...?

One unit of alcohol


Half a pint of beer, lager or cider


Pub measure of spirits (whisky, vodka, rum, gin)


Glass of wine


Glass of sherry


Is alcohol 'good for diabetes'?

There is some evidence that small amounts of alcohol may reduce your risk of heart disease. This has been shown by a number of studies, however the relationship between alcohol and health is a complex one. The protective effect of alcohol is thought to be partly mediated by an increase in levels of 'good cholesterol' (HDL cholesterol). It has been shown that moderate amounts of alcohol increase levels of HDL cholesterol.


Dr Nishan Wijenaike, Consultant Physician
West Suffolk Hospitals Diabetes Service.
October 2002