While it’s common knowledge that alcohol, cigarettes and drug abuse are unhealthy, many people don’t know that diabetics are even more susceptible to negative consequences from these substances.
Alcohol and Diabetes
Because antidiabetic drugs, alcohol and insulin lower blood sugar, diabetics should be especially careful when drinking. Low blood sugar levels trigger the liver to convert glycogen (the stored form of glucose) into glucose, which enters the bloodstream, raising blood sugar levels to sustain energy and activity.
When you drink alcohol, the liver instantly reacts to help remove this toxin. It stops converting glycogen into glucose until it has removed all the alcohol from your system. As a result, if blood sugar levels decrease, you no longer have a back-up system to restore them.
For diabetics, even two ounces of alcohol on an empty stomach can cause blood sugar levels to plummet. If you suffer from a serious case of diabetes, alcohol can put you at risk of diabetic shock, a complication of blood sugar levels below 65 milligrams per deciliter. Symptoms of diabetic shock include extreme shakiness, overwhelming fatigue and severe weakness.
Managing Diabetes and Alcohol
Diabetics can drink alcohol, as long as they follow medical advice for moderate consumption. When drinking, doctors generally recommend that diabetics:
- Check blood glucose levels when feelings of weakness and shakiness occur, and before sleeping.
- Choose low-sugar drinks, like light beer or dry wine.
- Eat before drinking.
- Limit alcohol intake (experts recommend one drink for female diabetics and two for male diabetics per day).
- Take an oral glucose tablet or eat if blood sugar decreases when drinking.
Smoking and Diabetes
While smoking can cause cancer, emphysema and other severe health problems in anyone, its ability to raise blood glucose levels can also trigger harmful diabetes complications.
Smokers with diabetes are three times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than diabetic nonsmokers. Other diabetic complications caused by smoking include:
- Blood vessel damage and constriction, increasing the risk of blood vessel disease and leg and foot infections
- Heart attacks
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Kidney disease
- Limited joint mobility
- Nerve damage
- Respiratory infections and colds.
Unlike alcohol, smoking is harmful even in moderation. As a result, if you’re a diabetic smoker, try to quit as soon as possible to prevent serious health problems.
Drug Use and Diabetes
Many drugs affect appetite by making you crave too much food or none at all, affecting blood sugar levels. Drugs themselves can also alter your blood sugar levels, whether or not you remember to eat.
Similarly, drugs that affect your state of consciousness can make you forget to check your glucose levels or forget to take your insulin. Because drugs also warp your perception of physical sensation, you may not notice the early signs of hypoglycemia and diabetic shock.
American Diabetes Association. (2010). What can I eat? Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/.