Diabetes type 1

Drinking and alcohol with diabetes

Alcohol confused many young people we talked to for this project - many said they didn't know what a 'unit' of alcohol was - and several had ended up in hospital after evenings out drinking. One young woman said the 'culture of drinking' was hard to handle when she was 16 and she wanted to fit in with her friends. Most young people said that they enjoyed drinking and had learned by trial and error which drinks they could take. Some had had experimented with different drinks to see how they felt, and several had experienced hypos from drinking too much - and said that afterwards they took more care.

Everyone said they had been told they must eat before they had a drink and that it was very important to eat something starchy (like bread or cereals) after they had been out drinking and before they went to bed. They understood that they risked having a hypo if they didn't eat before going to sleep.
Young people wanted to know more details about which drinks they should avoid and how each sort of drink would affect their blood glucose levels. They know that alcohol tends to lower blood glucose levels and can cause hypos but at the same time some were puzzled about sugary drinks. Most thought that alco pops were worse for them than wine because of the high sugar content; others said they couldn't cope with wine. They knew that they should think about what they had to drink, when they drank and who they went drinking with but many found initially that they didn't feel like being so responsible.  

Drinking a glass of wine with your family over dinner in a controlled environment was seen as being safer than drinking at a club or pub - though most people we talked to did both. People said that drinking too much alcohol at the same time as clubbing was potentially dangerous because dancing uses up energy and could make blood glucose levels dip even lower.

Young people felt that they were also affected by the attitude of the friends they went drinking with. Several said they felt comfortable drinking with good friends who knew about diabetes and who didn't put them under pressure to drink. It was important for people's friends to know that they were diabetic and to know the difference between a hypo and being drunk. A few people chose not to drink any alcohol when they went out with their friends and said they could relax without drinking, but several others said they wanted to be free to enjoy themselves without worrying all the time.
Several of the young people we talked to point out that they have not received any specific advice from their diabetic clinics about drinking. In other cases, information and advice about drinking is given too late, after the young person has already started drinking. Several young people said that they felt too shy to asked for advice.
Most people who had been given specific practical advice about drinking appreciated the help. They valued dieticians who had detailed knowledge of drinks and so could direct them towards/away from different kinds of beer or alco pops (e.g. should they drink lager or beer, Smirnoff Ice or Archers?). Most thought alco pops were riskier than wine because of the high sugar content; but others pointed out that different kinds of wine had different levels of sugar and wondered if drinks diluted with mixers were safe. Some people said they had been told to avoid diet drinks; others said they assumed diet drinks were better because they had no sugar.

Last reviewed December 2017.
Last updated November 2014.


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