Diabetes Resulting From Alcohol AbuseAugust 4th, 2015
As someone who has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, it’s common to hear a lot of misconceptions from those who know very little about the condition. The chances of developing diabetes depends on a mix of your genes and your lifestyle; for instance, heavy alcohol abuse can actually cause diabetes.
Diabetes is a common, life-long condition that occurs when your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or if the insulin it does produce doesn’t work properly. Insulin helps transfer glucose from the bloodstream into the cells that’s later used for energy; if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, your body can’t properly use the glucose, resulting in a build-up in the blood instead of moving into your cells.
Types of Diabetes
There are two types of diabetes that an individual can be diagnosed with:
Type 1 develops if your body can’t produce enough insulin. The insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed, either because of genetic factors or when a virus or infection triggers an autoimmune response (essentially when the body begins to attack itself). Those diagnosed with Type 1 are usually under 40 years old, and there’s no way to prevent it.
Type 2 develops when your body either makes too much or not enough insulin, or when your body becomes resistant to insulin. If you are overweight and have a sedentary lifestyle, this almost always leads to Type 2. Scientists have also discovered how your DNA can lead to a Type 2 diagnosis. Unlike Type 1, those with Type 2 are usually diagnosed over 40 years old, though more overweight children and young adults are being treated for Type 2.
Understanding Alcohol’s Effects
Alcohol slows down the central nervous system, which can decrease motor coordination, reaction time, and rational thought. Heavy amounts of alcohol can slow the respiratory system down drastically, and repeat uses of alcohol can result in a coma or even death.
When we eat or drink anything, our body breaks down the nutrients from that substance; same goes with alcohol. Once swallowed, an alcoholic beverage first passes through the stomach and down into the small intestine, where small blood vessels then carry it towards the bloodstream (and therefore, causing the user to be intoxicated). Approximately 20% of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach, and the remaining 80% is absorbed through the small intestine.
Alcohol is then processed by the liver, where enzymes break down the alcohol into its base components. In general, the liver can metabolize one ounce of liquor in one hour; consuming more than this can leave your system saturated and additional alcohol can build up in the blood and body tissues until the liver is ready to process more alcohol.
Alcohol and Diabetes
The liver also has the job of maintaining blood sugar levels by releasing glucose into your system. When you drink alcohol, your liver is busy breaking the substance down, and therefore doing a poor job of releasing the right amount of glucose into your bloodstream, leading to a drop in sugar levels. The more drinks consumed, the bigger the risk for serious low blood sugar.
Drinking a lot of alcohol can contribute to a diabetes diagnosis in several ways:
- Heavy drinking reduces the body’s sensitivity to insulin, triggering Type 2 diabetes.
- In chronic pancreatitis, diabetes is a common side effect; heavy drinking causes pancreatitis.
- Alcohol contains a staggering amount of calories, and have zero nutritional value. Our bodies can’t store alcohol like we store fat, carbohydrates and protein. Since alcohol has heavy amounts of sugar, excessively drinking can increase your chance of becoming overweight and leave you at risk of developing Type 2.
Additionally, patients on insulin treatment can develop dangerously low blood sugar levels, leading to a condition called hypoglycemia. Slurred words, confusion, double vision, headache, and even unconsciousness are symptoms of hypoglycemia. This condition is dangerous when combined with heavy drinking, since many people make the mistake of thinking the person is just drunk and may not realize that person needs immediate medical attention. Drinking heavily can also increase the chance of developing hypoglycemia because it prevents the liver from making glucose when drinking on an empty stomach, such as the morning after a night of drinking.
Diabetes, no matter which type, is manageable with the right treatment, but ignoring your routine of checking your blood sugar or abusing alcohol can have serious complications, such as heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, stroke, and nerve damage.
The first step is to talk to your doctor and find out if you have diabetes; they can prescribe the right treatment and offer advice on leading a healthier lifestyle. Our counselors can help with the second step, which is helping you or a loved one find the right course of action and the right facility to treat an alcohol addiction.