People with well-controlled diabetes can drink alcoholic beverages as long as they do so in moderation and with food. However, you shouldn't drink alcohol if you are pregnant, have a history of alcohol abuse, or have additional medical problems such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), advanced neuropathy (nerve damage), or elevated triglyceride levels. These same precautions apply to people who do not have diabetes.

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Studies in adults with and without diabetes show that regular consumption of light to moderate amounts of alcohol (5–15 g a day) increases HDL cholesterol and decreases the risk of CHD. Although excessive consumption of alcohol on a regular basis increases blood pressure and triglyceride levels, moderate use of alcohol does not pose such risks. Based on these findings, the American Diabetes Association recommends that alcohol intake be limited to no more than two alcoholic drinks per day for adult men and no more than one drink per day for adult women. (One drink is defined as 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of distilled spirits.)

Alcohol is considered an addition to the diet for individuals with diabetes, so do not omit other foods in order to drink. Since alcoholic beverages are high in sugar, drink them along with food so that blood glucose levels won't rise as quickly. If you use insulin, you may also need to adjust your dosage.

For people with diabetes, drinks that contain smaller amounts of sugar, such as light beers and dry wines, are preferable to sweet mixed drinks. Remember, however, that all alcoholic beverages contain calories and can contribute to weight gain. When taking the oral diabetes drug chlorpropamide (Diabinese), alcohol can cause flushing of the face, arms, and neck.

Publication Review By: Written by: Christopher D. Saudek, M.D.; Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Published: 20 Apr 2009

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015