Consuming alcohol can lead to hypoglycemia, especially for people with diabetes. This can happen several hours after you’ve finished drinking. It can also cause low blood sugar when combined with some medications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 37.3 million Americans have diabetes. For many people with diabetes, a food choices play an important role in preventing blood sugar spikes. This includes monitoring the beverages you drink.

There’s a risk that drinking alcohol can lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), especially for people with diabetes. Alcohol can inhibit the liver’s ability to regulate glucose levels, and it can interact with some medications to cause hypoglycemia.

This article will discuss how alcohol affects blood sugars, how different mixes can also play a part in your glucose levels, and how you can work with your doctor and healthcare team to be safe when drinking.

Alcohol affects many parts of the body, including the liver, which works to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. The liver helps to control the body’s blood sugar levels by storing and producing glucose. Signals from hormones like insulin aid the liver in knowing how much glucose the body needs.

However, the liver is also responsible for detoxifying the body of alcohol. When the liver is busy breaking down alcohol, it prioritizes this, and it may not release sufficient glucose to keep blood sugar levels high.

This is especially significant to people who take insulin or medications like sulfonylureas that increase insulin production. Insulin lowers blood sugar levels. When the liver is producing less glucose, medications that increase the amount of insulin in the body may cause blood sugar levels to go too low.

If you drink on an empty stomach or when blood sugar levels are already low, you’re also more likely to experience hypoglycemia.

Alcohol can continue to affect the body and the liver for several hours after it’s consumed.

It’s especially important to keep this risk in mind if you drink and take a medication like insulin in the evening before you fall asleep, as you may be in danger of experiencing hypoglycemia overnight.

It can be difficult to determine if someone is experiencing hypoglycemia or is intoxicated because they share many of the same symptoms.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia can include:

  • dizziness
  • shaking
  • hunger
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • slurred speech
  • fatigue
  • confusion

Seizures or coma may occur in severe hypoglycemia cases, so it’s important to keep an eye out for early symptoms and treat low blood sugar levels before they become severe. When in doubt, testing your blood sugar levels can help determine whether you’re hypoglycemic.

Some alcoholic drinks, like traditional cocktails, cream liqueurs, and dessert wines, are higher in carbohydrates and sugars. That means that these may lead to higher blood sugar levels than other types of drinks, including light beers, red and white wines, or distilled spirits.

If you’re interested in learning more about the best alcohols for those with diabetes, you can read more here.

Alcohol can cause lower blood sugar levels in those without diabetes, but it’s rare for people without diabetes to experience hypoglycemia.

People with diabetes can help prevent alcohol-related hypoglycemia by:

  • not drinking on an empty stomach
  • limiting the amount of alcohol they consume
  • drinking at a slow or moderate pace
  • monitoring their blood sugar levels while drinking

It’s important to take immediate action to raise your blood sugar levels when symptoms of hypoglycemia begin. If blood testing reveals hypoglycemia between 55–69 mg/dL, it’s recommended that you ingest 15 grams of carbohydrates and then recheck your blood sugar levels 15 minutes later.

If your blood sugars are still below normal, you should continue to consume 15 grams of carbohydrates and recheck your blood sugar levels after 15 minutes until their target levels are achieved. This is known as the Rule of 15.

Then, you should eat a nutritious meal or snack to help prevent levels from dipping low again.

If your blood sugar levels are below 55 mg/dL, it’s important to get medical help as soon as possible.

It’s important to keep an eye out for hypoglycemia when drinking alcohol, especially if you have diabetes. Alcohol can affect the liver, lowering blood sugar levels, and it can interact with some medications, including those used by many people with diabetes.

If you’re taking any medications or have diabetes, it’s important to speak with your doctor about whether it’s safe to drink alcohol. Your doctor can also offer advice on ways to prevent and handle hypoglycemia should it occur.