Drugs and Alcohol – Diabetes Risks?

Many people with diabetes are aware of how to minimize the risks of complications, but drugs and alcohol can make it difficult to:

  • Use medication
  • Test blood sugar
  • Eat regularly
  • Avoid certain foods and beverages

Diabetics – and everyone – should also avoid abusing drugs and alcohol. But why? And what are the complications of doing so for people in this population?

What happens when people with diabetes drink alcohol?

Alcohol and diabetes are complicated. It’s not surprising that combining the two can produce complicated effects.

In fact, depending on a person’s condition, consuming alcohol can raise or lower the blood glucose level. For people with well-managed diabetes, a smaller amount of alcohol can elevate their blood glucose levels.

But, if people with diabetes drink larger amounts of alcohol, they could produce the opposite effect. They could experience hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose levels.

If people become intoxicated, they may not recognize the symptoms of low blood glucose. They may ignore their symptoms of hypoglycemia because they think they’re signs of being drunk. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety, nervousness, or irritability
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Coordination problems
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Weakness or lack of energy
  • Paleness
  • Sleepiness or nightmares
  • Tingling or numbness in the face

Such symptoms can be painful or uncomfortable. Untreated, such symptoms can lead to seizures or comas or can even be fatal. Consuming carbohydrates or injecting the hormone glucagon and then consuming a meal can restore blood sugar levels and end hypoglycemia.

What happens when people with diabetes use drugs?

Just as being drunk can cause people to ignore the side effects of hypoglycemia and diabetes, using drugs can produce similar effects. If people are high and experiencing other drug-induced effects, they may not be able to determine if they’re also experiencing hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia (elevated blood glucose levels).

They may not feel like doing anything but searching for and using drugs. Drug use may sap their energy and motivation. Or, their drug use may lead them to lose their jobs and their health insurance, so they may not have the financial resources to manage their diabetes or other aspects of their lives.

Using any drugs, such as prescription medication, can affect blood sugar levels. People with diabetes who use other drugs may experience adverse effects.

For example, if they use cocaine, they can experience hyperglycemia, which can then cause cardiac problems. A study published in 2013 found that 20.6% of the people in the study who had diabetes and experienced diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) also abused substances such as cocaine or marijuana. Ketoacidosis occurs when substances called ketones build in the blood and make it more acidic.

Abusing drugs and alcohol can thus produce a ripple effect of symptoms for people with diabetes.

Do people with diabetes use drugs and alcohol?

Yes. Despite the potentially negative consequences, people with diabetes sometimes use (and misuse) alcohol and drugs.

A 2012 study in Internal Medicine Journal discussed the results of an anonymous survey of 504 people with type 1 diabetes. According to the results of the survey, 47% of the respondents used drugs at least once in the previous year. More than three-quarters (77%) of the respondents reported that they used recreational drugs once or more during their lives.

But, just like diabetes, substance abuse is not a death sentence. Both are manageable conditions. Taking responsibility and finding experienced care at drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers to treat these conditions can help people live healthy, happy lives.

References

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