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, heavy drinking does the opposite. In fact, it threatens everything from organ function to life expectancy. Alcohol damages 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 could never 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 developing alcoholic hepatitis.

If the well-known consequences weren’t bad enough, new research indicates that alcoholism may have a connection to yet another serious 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. When this happens, the body needs an artificial pump for a supply of 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 adequately use the insulin produced. This reaction, called insulin resistance, cannot be treated with a pump. Instead, type 2 diabetics must carefully monitor food intake to regulate blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition with no actual cure. In some cases, treating the symptoms is possible with weight loss, a healthy diet, and some forms of medication. Still, diabetes type 2 can worsen over time and yield numerous potentially fatal side effects. While many different factors can influence diabetes— including genetics— lifestyle is often considered one of the most prominent factors in the disease’s development.

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 severe. 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 improper maintenance on a daily basis. While easier to treat, the ramifications can still prove to be dangerous when left unattended.

Hypoglycemia

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.
the Link Between Alcoholism and Diabetes

Long-Term Complications

Long-term complications of diabetes are generally severe. While not immediately harmful, these conditions can develop on over time. If or when they do, they may be challenging to treat once onset occurs— if not impossible.

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 real medical consensus as to the exact cause, known threats include:

  • Weight: the more fatty tissue a body has, 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.

Type Two Diabetes and Alcoholism

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 studies have proven is related to the development of 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 more significant 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 Diabetes and Alcoholism

Like addiction, diabetes is a chronic disease that has no cure. However, reversing risk factors can reduce the threat of significant 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) 201-3136 to learn more about our inpatient rehabilitation and detox services.

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