Is There An Increased Risk?

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Last updated September 7, 2022 by Randy Withers, LCMHC

In healthcare, the term comorbidity refers to the simultaneous occurrence of two or more diseases. The implication is often that these issues are somehow related. In this article, we will talk about the comorbidity of alcoholism and diabetes, with a focus on how the former affects the latter.

Excessive alcohol consumption or chronic alcoholism can cause inflammation of the pancreas. It affects the ability to secrete insulin, potentially leading to diabetes if this occurs.


Diabetes is a chronic disease. Unfortunately, it’s common for alcoholics to have diabetes or to have developed the disease during their addiction. In other words, alcoholism and diabetes often share a common comorbidity.

Overall, alcohol has a significant impact on blood sugar levels. Because of this, there is an increased risk associated with alcohol abuse.

Alcoholism and Diabetes: Is There an Increased Risk?


The correlation between alcoholism and diabetes

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease states that an estimated 34.2 million people have diabetes, 10.5% of the US population.

Excessive alcohol consumption is a significant problem. The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health states that 22% of people ages 12 and older are heavy alcohol users, while 6.4% are heavy alcohol users. Approximately over 10% have had an alcohol use disorder in the past year.


Research published in Diabetes Care indicates that:

  • Moderate alcohol consumption can reduce a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption increased the risk of developing the condition in slim women.
  • Alcohol affects the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

In addition, chronic or heavy drinking disrupts various metabolic processes in the body. It could in itself be a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Heavy alcohol consumption leads to impaired glucose tolerance—impaired insulin secretion and decreased insulin sensitivity or resistance.


Risks of alcohol consumption for diabetics

Being diabetic and drinking alcohol can make it harder to control your blood sugar.

People with diabetes develop dangerously high blood sugar when drinking alcohol. Also, diabetics who are malnourished develop dangerously low blood sugar levels.

Alcohol consumption also increases the risk of other diabetes-related health problems, such as B. Severe cardiovascular and neurological problems.


The American Diabetes Association states that the biggest concern is hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Alcohol and the combination of diabetes medications such as insulin and sulfonylureas lead to low blood sugar.

The liver first metabolizes alcohol by maintaining blood sugar levels, leading to hypoglycemia.

What Are the Health Risks of Diabetes?

Alcohol consumption among diabetics and non-diabetics is widespread. Unfortunately, heavy and excessive alcohol consumption is also common.

Numerous studies have shown the effects of alcohol on controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. However, research has also shown that effects vary and are based on:

  • Whether alcohol consumption occurs when a person has just eaten and blood sugar levels are high, or
  • The person has not eaten for several hours and the blood sugar level is relatively low.

The following are some of the health complications caused by alcohol in diabetics:

Diabetic Ketoacidosis – The problem mainly occurs in diabetics. It is characterized by excessive levels of certain acids called ketone bodies in the blood. Heavy alcohol consumption causes this problem in both diabetics and non-diabetics.

Changes in lipid metabolism – Alcohol consumption exacerbates diabetes-related lipid abnormalities. Studies have shown that heavy drinking can alter lipid levels even in non-diabetics.

Cardiovascular Disease – One of the leading causes of death in America and a leading cause of death in people with type 2 diabetes.

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Diabetic Eye Disease – Heavy alcohol consumption can increase a person’s risk of developing this disease.

Alcoholism and Diabetes: A Bad Combination. Courtesy YouTube.

The harsh reality of alcoholism

Alcoholism is a significant public health problem. It is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. An estimated 68,000 men and 27,000 women die each year from alcohol-related causes.

Alcohol contributes to approximately 18% of emergency department visits and 22% of opioid-related overdose deaths. In addition, it contributes to overwhelming mental health problems.

Statistically, someone with an alcohol use disorder is more likely to see a family doctor for an alcohol-related medical problem than for drinking too much.

Unfortunately, diabetes and alcoholism can go undetected until it’s too late.

About one in five diabetics does not know they have it. Men are three times as likely to die as a result of alcohol abuse as women. In all, Americans lose potential life to excess drinking over 2.7 million years.

Early intervention is crucial at this stage as severe alcoholism would also produce co-occurring disorders such as anxiety or depression. It can often be difficult to diagnose co-occurring conditions because the symptoms are very similar.

Alcoholism worsens mental health in diabetics

Living with diabetes can lead to problems with anxiety and depression. Adding alcohol abuse makes these problems that much worse.

According to the CDC, people with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes.

In addition, anxiety and stress become constant. People with diabetes often become discouraged, worried, frustrated, and stressed as they deal with their condition on a daily basis. Alcohol becomes an unhealthy way of coping.

Alcohol is a powerful depressant. Someone who is already struggling with depression is compounding their problem with alcohol abuse.

The rehabilitation process would include a dual diagnostic program addressing alcoholism and other disorders.

Diabetes and illicit drug use

It’s not uncommon for alcoholics to abuse other drugs, such as illegal street drugs or prescription narcotics. Unfortunately, research has shown that illicit drug use accelerates the onset of type 2 diabetes. It is also associated with decreased insulin sensitivity.

Overall, illicit drugs also increase the risk of serious mental health problems and other health complications. Most recreational drugs affect blood sugar control. However, the effects are not as well documented as with alcohol and tobacco.

It becomes a lethal mix for someone with diabetes when a mix of alcohol and illegal or legal drugs is abused.

Rehabilitation for patients with alcoholism and diabetes

The combination of alcoholism and diabetes is problematic for anyone who constantly monitors their blood sugar levels. Alcohol abuse contributes to an unhealthy lifestyle.

However, there are integrated treatment programs for comorbid diabetes and alcoholism. Treatment approaches are specific and include some of the following:

  • medication management
  • detoxification
  • Medical monitoring
  • nutrition planning
  • counseling and therapy
  • Exercise and Fitness Regiments
  • Recovery and follow-up support

Ideally, finding the right help is crucial, and programs should specialize in co-occurring medical problems. These include, for example, inpatient and outpatient resources. Alcohol use has been identified as a barrier to diabetes self-care compliance, making it an essential part of rehabilitation.

Online alcohol treatment on your terms

With personalized online alcohol treatment, drinking becomes less important to you. You can make a change, and we’re here to help.

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