Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, occurs when blood glucose levels drop below a target range. It can be brought on by alcohol as well as:
Normally, when blood glucose levels drop below the target range, the liver replenishes this level by releasing glucose into the bloodstream. When alcohol is consumed, the liver switches from glucose production to breaking down the alcohol in order to flush it from the body. Glucose secretion is severely decreased while the liver removes alcohol from the body. This can typically take between 1 to 3 hours per drink. In diabetics, this is a concern particularly if you also take medications to lower blood glucose levels.
While the liver is processing alcohol, hypoglycemia can occur if sugar levels are not restored by eating or drinking something. For people with type 2 diabetes, the process is usually gradual. Sweating, weakness, shaking, dizziness and hunger are early warning signs and a clear signal for the body to consume more nutrients to elevate sugar levels. If left untreated, more serious symptoms may result such as slurred speech, staggering, confusion and drowsiness. At this stage, hypoglycemia is often easily mistaken for drunkenness.
Depending on your body, hypoglycemia can occur up to 36 hours after overindulging in alcohol. It is also possible for this to develop during the night as blood sugar levels continue to drop as the liver is preoccupied with clearing alcohol from the blood. You may wake with a headache or sweat-soaked, which should not be confused with a hangover.
If you notice symptoms of hypoglycemia, eat or drink something that will quickly raise your blood sugar levels (i.e. fruit juice, candy, soda).
Follow these tips to more safely include alcohol into your lifestyle:
'Straight' alcoholic drinks and some liquor will quickly pass through the stomach, into the small intestines and be absorbed in bloodstream much faster on an empty stomach. The liver will halt glucose production much more abruptly which may push already low sugar levels into the hypoglycemic range.
Alcoholism may help to contribute to the onset of Type 2 Diabetes, in combination with other factors. Long term alcohol abuse may cause damage to the pancreas and impair its ability to secrete insulin, as well as cause damage to the liver, inhibiting the production of glucose.
Many alcoholic drinks are also high in calories, which can lead to weight gain. Being overweight is a risk factor in the development of Type 2 Diabetes.
Usually, hypoglycemia is mild and easily treated by eating or drinking something with carbohydrates or sugar. Left untreated, however, it can be fatal. Alcohol consumption, and particularly alcoholism, can make treating or managing hypoglycemia and diabetes more challenging. Diabetics should be especially careful to monitor their blood glucose levels regularly, take medications as prescribed, and follow a healthy diet and exercise routine.