Is it OK to Drink Alcohol?

Q: My uncle has type 2 diabetes and wants to have a glass of wine in the evening. Is it OK for people with type 2 diabetes to drink alcohol?

A: The same guidelines for alcohol that apply to the general public also work for people with diabetes: If your uncle wants to drink alcohol, he should do so in moderation. However, because he may be taking a number of various medications and have other medical issues that might interact with alcohol, he should check with his doctor as a precaution.

Moderation is defined by the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other organizations as no more than two drinks a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women. One drink is defined as:

  • 12 ounces of beer

  • 5 ounces of wine

  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (distilled spirits)

Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. Some alcoholic beverages, including wine, contain a small amount of carbohydrates. All types of alcohol have been shown to have some heart-health benefits: raising HDL (good) cholesterol and improving insulin resistance.

The biggest concern about alcohol intake is low blood glucose several hours after drinking. If your uncle doesn't take a blood-glucose-lowering medication, then this is not a concern. If he does take medication such as a sulfonylurea or insulin, this could be a problem. Therefore, when your uncle drinks alcohol, he should consume it along with food because alcohol affects blood glucose levels less when a person is eating at the same time.

People who should not drink alcohol at all include:

  • pregnant women

  • people with medical problems

People with medical problems such as:

  • severe hypertriglyceridemia

  • advanced neuropathy

  • pancreatitis

  • alcohol addiction

Jeannette Jordan, M.S., R.D., CDE, is the American Dietetic Association's national spokesperson for African-American nutrition issues and oversees nutrition education at the Medical University of South Carolina.