How Drinking Alcohol & Smoking Affects Diabetes

The Gist of It:

  • Alcohol can affect blood sugar levels and contains high sugar and calorie.
  • Smoking increases the risk of heart and breathing complications like heart attacks and lung problems.
  • Read on for tips on how to manage alcohol and quit smoking.

The title of this article might sound like a hiphop album by the Ministry of Health but this ain’t no laughing matter dawg! Alcohol and cigarettes are harmful on its own and have a long list of illnesses and conditions related to it. To make matter worse; people with diabetes already have a greater risk of developing health problems like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot problems, and many others. Smoking and drinking make the risks that much greater.

1. Alcohol and diabetes


Alcohol is processed in the body the same way fat is processed and provides almost as many calories too. Drinking alcohol can cause a diabetic’s blood sugar to rise. Just like alcohol tolerance, the amount of liquid courage needed to affect your blood varies from person to person.

We’re not telling you to stop drinking altogether but only drink occasionally and when your blood sugar level is under controlled. If you are following a calorie-controlled meal plan, one drink of alcohol should be counted as two fat exchanges.

How alcohol affects diabetes:

  • While moderate amounts of alcohol can cause blood sugar to rise, excess alcohol can actually decrease your blood sugar level — sometimes causing it to drop into dangerous levels.
  • Beer and sweet wine contain carbohydrates and may raise blood sugar.
  • Alcohol stimulates your appetite, which can cause you to overeat and may affect your blood sugar control.
  • Alcohol can interfere with the positive effects of oral diabetes medicines or insulin.
  • Alcohol may increase triglyceride levels.
  • Alcohol may increase blood pressure.
  • Alcohol can cause flushing, nausea, increased heart rate, and slurred speech.

People with diabetes should follow these guidelines:

  • Do not drink more than 2 drinks in a one-day period. (Example: one alcoholic drink = 5-ounce glass of wine, 1 1/2-ounce “shot” of liquor or 12-ounce beer).
  • Drink alcohol only with food.
  • Drink slowly. Avoiding “downing” with friends.
  • Avoid “sugary” mixed drinks, sweet wines, or cordials.
  • If you’ve been consuming hard liquor with soft drink, try opting for water or diet soda instead. Alcohol on its own contains high sugar and calories. Adding soft drinks to it makes it worse.
  • It’s best to check with your doctor if you are overweight or have high blood pressure or high triglyceride levels before drinking alcohol. If your sugar levels have been all over the place or you haven’t been feeling too well then skip the drink.

2. Smoking and diabetes


Some may argue that smoking isn’t so bad and that they’ve been smoking too long to quit but whatever it is, smoking is especially harmful for people with diabetes. The nicotine in cigarette smoke causes large and small blood vessels to harden and narrow resulting in reduced blood flow to the rest of the body. It also increases the risk of getting a heart attack and respiratory complications.

Here are some tips for quitting, courtesy of our friends at the American Cancer Society:

  • Don’t carry a lighter or matches and hide all ashtrays in your home and office.
  • When the urge to smoke hits; take a deep breath. Hold it for 10 seconds and then release it slowly. Taking deep, rhythmic breaths is similar to smoking; only you’ll inhale clean air, not poisonous gas.
  • Spend free time in places where smoking is prohibited, such as shopping malls, cinemas, and the likes. At work, try to go for lunch with friends who are also trying to quit smoking and sit at the non-smoking section.
  • Exercise to help relieve tension. Climb stairs rather than take the elevator, or get off the bus before your destination and walk the rest of the way.
  • Drink lots of liquids. Water, decaffeinated teas, and fruit juices are good. Certain decaffeinated soft drinks are also bearable. Pass up on strong coffee, soft drinks containing caffeine, and alcohol, as they all can increase the urge to smoke.
  • Keep your hands occupied (and to yourself). Try doodling, knitting, playing video games or other activities that keep you busy.
  • Change the habits connected with smoking. If you always had a cigarette on your work break, opt for a low-calorie snack and juice or tea instead.
  • Tell all your friends that you are definitely quitting smoking. Ask them to help keep you from backsliding. Ask family and co-workers who smoke not to do so around you.

For more info on how to quit smoking, click here.

Wrapping Up

We know it’s not easy giving up an addiction, what more a habit. But if your health is at risk then the results will justify the means. Unless you’re an alcoholic, casual drinking should be a little easier to control compared to smoking.

Ask your doctor if nicotine replacement therapy like patches or gum is suitable for you. When using these products, follow the directions on the package and report any side effects to your doc immediately.

You should not smoke while using nicotine replacement products as it can cause serious side effects. If you are trying a new product, always measure your blood sugar more frequent just to be safe.


HealthWorks is currently running a series on diabetes, click here to read more on this silent killer.


 As a diabetic, how are you taking care of yourself nutritionally? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

Persatuan Diabetes Malaysia 
Global Diabetes Community 
American Cancer Association

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