Julie is a Medtronic MiniMed Ambassador and has been living with type 1 diabetes for more than ten years. She holds a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Utah and works as a student affairs professional at the university level. She’s also an avid traveler, particularly by bicycle; she recently completed a 1,000-mile solo bicycle tour around Iceland. In addition, she has a love for music and plays several instruments. Her extensive experience on college campuses has revealed how important support is for young people with diabetes, and how challenging it can be to balance blood sugar and insulin monitoring with a potentially risky behavior like drinking alcohol. In the following blog post, she shares her experiences with both.
When I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a 15-year-old, I remember being told something to the effect of, “If you drink alcohol, you will go low, you will not respond to revival efforts, and you will die!” It may not have been so dramatically worded, but the message was clear—it was dangerous to mix alcohol and diabetes, so for a long time I chose not to. However, after I turned 21, I decided that I was willing to put in the extra effort to learn if I could safely drink alcohol with diabetes.
My current position as a university administrator has helped develop some knowledge and skills regarding safer drinking behaviors. I speak with college students regularly to support them in making healthy decisions regarding alcohol consumption. For example, consuming food with alcohol, sticking to a limit of 1 or 2 drinks, substituting water or soda for alcohol, and spreading drinks out throughout the night are all ways to reduce the risk of a harmful outcome. From my work with students I have found that safer practices for alcohol consumption apply to people of any age, whether they have a working pancreas or not.
However, there are definitely some considerations specific to people with diabetes when consuming alcohol. Here are a few tips that I’ve found to be helpful in my own life:
- Test, test, test! (Universal diabetes advice, I know). This is especially important before, during, and after consuming alcohol. Testing before I drink lets me know how I’m doing, so I can determine if I’m comfortable with where the number is before throwing another variable (alcohol) into the blood sugar mix. Testing frequently while I drink alcohol allows me to monitor the effect that the carbohydrates and alcohol have on my blood sugar. Testing after I’m done drinking and using the temp basal feature on my MiniMed insulin pump system can help curb the blood sugar–lowering effect that alcohol can have up to 24 hours after consuming. For me this usually happens around 3 am, so I pay extra attention to my blood sugar before going to bed and reduce my basal insulin rate overnight. While I was still learning about my body’s responses, the Threshold Suspend feature on my MiniMed 530G pump with Enlite sensor was also very useful to help mitigate low blood sugar reactions that I would sometimes sleep through. Having that extra safety feature made me more comfortable as I began to learn how alcohol affected me.
- Let others know you have diabetes. Make sure to have at least one friend with you who knows and who stays sober when you’re drinking. It is harder for me to recognize symptoms of a low blood sugar reaction if I am intoxicated, so having a friend who will remind me to test my blood sugar, make sure that I do it, and help me get sugar if I need it, has helped me avoid trouble on a number of occasions.
- Also, make sure to wear medical identification in case alcohol and/or low blood sugar cause unconsciousness so emergency responders don’t assume it’s only due to alcohol.
- As mentioned before, alcohol can lower blood sugar relatively quickly, and it can also lower blood sugar several hours after the last drink. This makes consuming carbohydrates and/or lowering insulin doses very important. Being aware of the carbohydrate content in the mixers or beverages you are consuming can help to dose insulin appropriately and compensate for this effect.
While someone with diabetes drinking alcohol does not mean automatic death (and the messages I got as a teen were way too much about fear and blame), it does need some attention and planning in order to avoid harm from alcohol OR low blood sugar. By thinking ahead, deciding what I’ll do to be safer before I start drinking, and watching my blood sugar all the while, I’ve been able to drink alcohol without scary lows or nasty consequences. If you drink, what strategies have you found useful to manage your blood sugar while you’re consuming alcohol?
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IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION
– Medtronic Diabetes insulin infusion pumps, continuous glucose monitoring systems and associated components are limited to sale by or on the order of a physician and should only be used under the direction of a healthcare professional familiar with the risks associated with the use of these systems.
– Successful operation of the insulin infusion pumps and/or continuous glucose monitoring systems requires adequate vision and hearing to recognize alerts and alarms.
Medtronic Diabetes Insulin Infusion Pumps
– Insulin pump therapy is not recommended for individuals who are unable or unwilling to perform a minimum of four blood glucose tests per day.
– Insulin pumps use rapid-acting insulin. If your insulin delivery is interrupted for any reason, you must be prepared to replace the missed insulin immediately.
Medtronic Diabetes Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) Systems
– The information provided by CGM systems is intended to supplement, not replace, blood glucose information obtained using a home glucose meter. A confirmatory fingerstick is required prior to treatment.
– Insertion of a glucose sensor may cause bleeding or irritation at the insertion site. Consult a physician immediately if you experience significant pain or if you suspect that the site is infected.
For more information, please visit MedtronicDiabetes.com/isi.