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Alcohol Avoidance and Type 1 Diabetes

You probably already know that, if you are not 21, drinking alcoholic beverages is against the law. Even if you are of legal drinking age, alcohol should be avoided if you take insulin. Alcohol can affect your blood sugar in ways you might not expect.

What makes alcohol dangerous for people without diabetes—things like blackouts, drunk driving, and using poor judgment—are only the tip of the iceberg for someone with type 1 diabetes. The impairment that comes from even slight alcohol intoxication can cause you to make the wrong decisions about managing your diabetes.

Here are some facts on alcohol and type 1 diabetes

  • Alcohol can have an immediate effect on your blood sugar levels
  • Alcohol can affect both your awareness of low blood sugar as well as your ability to treat it

Drinking alcohol can greatly raise or lower your blood sugar levels. Yes, it sounds like a contradiction, but here are two ways that this can happen:

Low blood sugar from alcohol use. The liver naturally releases sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream between meals and overnight. However, the liver is also the organ that processes (metabolizes) alcohol. And it may take hours to metabolize even one drink. While the liver is metabolizing alcohol, it cannot produce glucose. This can result in low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Please be aware that a glucagon emergency kit can't reverse your low blood sugar in this situation. That can be a dangerous mistake when it comes to alcohol. Yes, the purpose of a glucagon emergency kit, is to treat severe low blood sugar, but alcohol can keep it from working as intended.

(As you may know, a glucagon emergency kit contains an injection of glucagon, a hormone that, in most cases, raises your blood sugar level by triggering the liver to release stored sugar. It is injected under the skin, similar to how insulin is injected. To learn more about glucagon emergency kits, click here.)

But when it comes to alcohol, a glucagon emergency kit isn't going to help. That's because alcohol also blocks the liver from responding to glucagon. And, while snacking before consuming alcohol and cutting back on insulin to help prevent hypoglycemia are tactics some people with type 1 diabetes try, they are far from precise or reliable. So, the best treatment is prevention.

High blood sugar from alcohol use. Beer and sweet wines are just loaded with carbs! And mixed alcoholic drinks often contain fruit juices, regular sodas, syrups, and all sorts of sugary ingredients. What happens after drinking these concoctions is much like a glycemic roller coaster ride. Your blood sugar goes way up (hyperglycemia) when you first drink. Then it crashes down low (hypoglycemia) once the alcohol starts to affect the liver.

Avoiding alcohol

It can be awkward and seem impolite to refuse a drink, especially in certain social situations. But, even if you don't want to get into talking about your diabetes, it can be as simple as saying:

  • No thanks—I'm good with what I have (keeping a full glass of soda or water in your hand may help to discourage offers of alcoholic refills)
  • No thanks—I'm the designated driver

If you feel comfortable talking about your diabetes, you can explain by saying something like, "No thanks. It's okay, I know you didn't know this, but I have type 1 diabetes and if I drink it can make me really sick. I'd rather be here the whole night and have a good time than have to leave early!"

Indications and Usage for GlucaGen® HypoKit® (glucagon [rDNA origin] for injection):

GlucaGen® (glucagon [rDNA origin] for injection) is a prescription medicine used to treat very low blood sugar (severe hypoglycemia) that can happen in people who have diabetes and use insulin. Symptoms of severe hypoglycemia include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. You should only give GlucaGen® injection if (1) the person is unconscious or (2) the person is having a seizure or (3) the person is confused and unable to eat sugar or a sugar-sweetened product. Less severe cases of hypoglycemia should be treated right away by eating sugar or a sugar sweetened product such as a regular soft drink or fruit juice. GlucaGen® does not work if it is taken by mouth.


Important Safety Information for GlucaGen® HypoKit®:

Do not use GlucaGen® if you are allergic to glucagon or lactose, have a tumor of the adrenal gland called a pheochromocytoma, or have a tumor of the pancreas called insulinoma.

Hypoglycemia may happen again after receiving GlucaGen® treatment. You must be given a fast-acting source of sugar followed by a long-acting source of sugar by mouth as soon as you are awake and able to swallow.

Tell your doctor about all medicines you take and all of your medical conditions, including if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. GlucaGen® may affect the way other medicines work, and other medicines may affect how GlucaGen® works.

GlucaGen® may cause serious side effects including allergic reactions. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction may include rash or itching, raised red patches on your skin (hives), swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat, problems breathing or swallowing, very high or very low blood pressure, or fast or slow heart beat. The most common side effects of GlucaGen® include nausea and vomiting.

Please click here for Prescribing Information.

GlucaGen® is a prescription medication.

Talk to your doctor about the importance of diet and exercise in your treatment plan.

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit, or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

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If you need assistance with prescription drug costs, help may be available. Visit or call 1-888-4PPA-NOW.
GlucaGen® and HypoKit® are registered trademarks of Novo Nordisk A/S.

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