Is it OK if my mom with type 2 diabetes drinks alcohol?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother, recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, enjoys having a glass of wine with her friends. Is it safe for her to drink alcohol?

Expert Answer

Theresa Garnero is clinical nurse manager of Diabetes Services at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

With clearance from her physician and some caution and common sense, your mom may still partake in the pleasure of a glass of merlot if her diabetes is well controlled. Her doctor, though, may advise against drinking alcohol because of related complications such as nerve damage or high blood pressure.

Some other caveats: If your mom takes glucose-lowering diabetes pills or if she uses insulin, drinking isn't advisable. She would run the risk of her blood sugar levels going dangerously low if she mixes these medications with a margarita. Likewise, your mother should never drink on an empty stomach, since this increases her risk of having a low blood sugar episode. So suggest that she have that drop of pinot over dinner, or at least with some carbohydrate-containing nibbles such as cheese and crackers.

The standard alcohol consumption guidelines that apply to the general population apply to people with diabetes as well: Your mom should limit her intake to one unit a day (men may drink two units daily.) It's also advisable to have two alcohol-free days a week. A unit of alcohol is equal to 4.5 fluid ounces of wine (one small glass); 1.5 fluid ounces of liquor, sherry, vermouth, liqueur, or aperitif; or half a pint of regular-strength beer.

Remember, too, that when your mother drinks, she's consuming empty calories -- no nutrients -- so she runs the risk of gaining weight, since alcoholic beverages (especially cocktails filled with fruit juice and other mixers ) are high in calories. Light beer and dry wines make better choices than a Fluffy Duck or a Bloody Mary, and she should substitute low-calorie mixers like diet ginger ale, diet tonic water, or diet cola.

As an extra precautionary measure, your mom should check her glucose level before she goes to bed if she's had a drink that night, to make sure it isn't too low. If it is, she should eat a snack before she retires to avoid a hypoglycemic reaction while she sleeps. A low blood sugar reading the morning after imbibing alcohol is another risk to watch out for, so your mom should check her blood glucose upon waking as well.