The Link Between Diabetes and Alcoholism

The connection between alcohol and health consequences is hardly a secret. While drinking in moderation may have some small benefits, drinking heavily does the opposite, threatening everything from organ function to life expectancy. Alcohol is damaging to the brain, the liver, blood pressure, and more, putting your entire body at risk for irreversible damage.

During the depths of addiction, many alcohol abusers assume these issues are overstated or won’t happen to them. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. A majority of alcoholics will eventually develop related complications, with almost all long-term binge drinkers experiencing liver disease and 35% of heavy drinkers eventually developing alcoholic hepatitis.

If the well-known consequences weren’t bad enough, new research indicates that alcoholism may be connected to yet another harmful condition: type 2 diabetes. Also known as adult-onset diabetes, this disease carries with it a significantly increased mortality rate, putting happiness and health at grave risk.

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What Is Type Two Diabetes?

Diabetes refers to a group of diseases caused by too much sugar in the blood. In general, most patients have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, is a form in which your body does not make its own insulin. Instead, the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, requiring the use of an artificial pump to supply the body with insulin. Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90% to 95% of all diabetes cases, is an alternate form in which the body does not produce enough insulin or does not properly use the insulin produced. This reaction is known as insulin resistance, and cannot be treated with a pump. Instead, type 2 diabetics must carefully monitor food intake to regulate blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes is considered a chronic condition with no true cure. In some cases, symptoms can be mitigated with weight loss, a healthy diet, and medication. Over time, diabetes type 2 can worsen, leading to numerous potentially fatal side effects. While diabetes can be caused by many different factors, including genetics, lifestyle is often considered one of the strongest factors in developing the disease.

Consequences of Type Two Diabetes

Despite the prevalence of diabetes – over 29 million people have diabetes, and over one in three adults is prediabetic – the side effects can be extremely serious. Without proper management, diabetes can pose a critical risk to health and well-being, serving as the 7th leading cause of death in the United States.

As such, diabetes has a variety of associated long and short-term consequences that can develop over time, including diabetic retinopathy and kidney disease.

Short-Term Complications

Short-term complications of diabetes often arise quickly and are related to inappropriate maintenance on a daily basis. While easier to treat, the ramifications can still prove to be dangerous when left unattended.


The clinical term for low blood glucose, hypoglycemia is caused by an imbalance in glucose levels. Common in those with diabetes, especially for those who take insulin or a sulfonylurea drug that stimulates insulin production, hypoglycemia can cause loss of consciousness, seizures, and even death. Symptoms include rapid heartbeat, sweating, anxiety, confusion, and slurred speak.

Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic Nonketotic Syndrome

Also known as HHNS, Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic Nonketotic Syndrome is a rare but potentially fatal condition that occurs when blood glucose reaches critically high levels. In HNNS, the body reacts to high glucose levels with increased urination and sweating. Without proper hydration, glucose levels will continue to climb, causing a coma.

Long-Term Complications

the Link Between Alcoholism and DiabetesLong-term complications of diabetes are generally very serious. While not immediately harmful, these conditions can come on over time and may be hard, if not impossible, to treat once onset occurs.

Microvascular Complications

Over time, high blood glucose can damage small blood vessels throughout the body. Damaged blood vessels can’t carry blood to organs properly, leading to irreparable issues to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Microvascular complications can cause cataracts or retinopathy in the eyes, kidney disease that may require dialysis, and nerve damage throughout the body. Lost sensation in the feet is among the most common challenges associated with neuropathy, leading to sores, infections, and potentially amputation.

Macrovascular Complications

In addition to damaging smaller blood vessels in the body, type 2 diabetes can cause plaque to build up in larger blood vessels, leading to heart attack, stroke, and vessel blockage. This can compromise circulation, leading to loss of sensation and lack of blood flow through the lower extremities in particular.

Diabetes Risk Factors

Type 2 diabetes risk factors can vary greatly, ranging from familial factors to lifestyle influences. While there’s no true medical consensus as to the exact cause, known threats include:

  • Weight: the more fatty tissue is present on the body, the more resistant cells become to insulin
  • Inactivity: a sedentary lifestyle can slow the conversion of glucose to energy, decreasing the sensitivity of cells to insulin.
  • Family history
  • Race: while causes are unclear, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • Age: risk of diabetes increases with age, likely due to reduced exercise, lost muscle mass, and weight gain
  • High blood pressure: blood pressure of over 140/90 is linked to type 2 diabetes

As research progresses, doctors and scientists are noting an increasing number of links to unhealthy behavior, like binge drinking and alcohol abuse.

Alcoholism and Type Two Diabetes

Alcoholism has many effects on the body, affecting heart function, liver function, and brain function most notably. Prolonged binge drinking can have significant negative consequences to overall health, increasing the risk of overdose as well as premature death. However, the connections between alcohol abuse and type 2 diabetes are frequently understated.

In reality, alcoholism has strong ties to type 2 diabetes, working in conjunction with other factors, like excess weight and inactivity, to increase the likelihood of diagnosis. There are numerous ways in which alcohol consumption can factor into diabetes.

  • Heavy drinking can reduce sensitivity to insulin, leading to unstable glucose levels. Many alcoholic drinks, like beer and wine, contain carbohydrates and natural sugars that can throw the body out of balance.
  • Alcoholism can contribute to chronic pancreatitis, which is heavily linked to diabetes.
  • Alcohol is high in calories, adding potentially thousands of calories to one’s diet. This can lead to weight gain and, eventually, obesity, contributing to weight-related risks.

Studies performed have come to the same conclusions; a study in 2005 notes that men who drink eight units a day and women who drink six units a day have a much larger risk than those who do not drink at all.

In addition to the links between diabetes development and alcoholism, drinking alcohol regularly can exacerbate diabetic symptoms in those who have been diagnosed already. Development of hypoglycemia increases when drinking on an empty stomach, and diabetic nerve damage can worsen when under the influence of alcohol. Individuals who have diabetes should not drink to excess, and doctors suggest no more than one drink per day.

Addressing Alcoholism and Diabetes

Like addiction, diabetes is a chronic disease that has no cure. However, reversing risk factors can reduce the threat of major complications, like neuropathy and vascular damage. As such, many diabetic patients are encouraged to lose weight, increase physical activity, maintain a healthy diet, and, if the situation warrants it, cease alcohol consumption.

If you or someone you love is suffering from alcoholism and its devastating health effects, TTC Care is here. Please call us at 844-310-9546 to learn more about our inpatient rehabilitation and detox services.

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