Alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) shares a few similarities with diabetes. For example, both are typically described as chronic conditions that can be treated, but not cured. Also, people who have these disorders can usually manage their symptoms, often with lifestyle changes and medication. But does the relationship go deeper than this? For example, can alcohol abuse cause diabetes?
What Is Diabetes?
Before we answer the question, “Can alcohol abuse cause diabetes?” it is important to define two key terms: alcohol abuse and diabetes.
We’ll start with diabetes, which can occur in several different versions. The two most common forms of diabetes are referred to as type 1 and type 2:
- Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease that is characterized by the inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is essential for regulating the amount of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. Type 1 diabetes was once referred to as juvenile diabetes, but this was a bit of a misnomer, as people can develop this condition at any age.
- Type 2 diabetes, which was once known as adult-onside diabetes, affects how cells respond to insulin. Though the pancreas makes enough of the hormone, the cells of people who have type 2 diabetes become resistant to it. This can cause the pancreas to increase its insulin production, which can lead to elevated levels of blood glucose.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), type 2 diabetes affects far more people than type 1 does. The CDC estimates that about 33-35 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, while about 1.8-3.7 million people in the U.S. have type 1 diabetes.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse can refer to any intentional misuse of alcohol. To better track the prevalence and effects of this behavior, the CDC has established criteria for two types of alcohol abuse:
- Binge drinking: This is defined as having five or more drinks (for men) or four or more drinks (for women) in a brief period of time.
- Heavy drinking: The CDC considers having more than 15 drinks per week (for men) or more than 8 drinks per week (for women) to qualify as heavy drinking.
CDC data indicates that about 17% of U.S. adults (or about 44 million people ages 18 and above) have engaged in binge drinking in the past year, while about 6% (or about 15.5 million people) regularly engage in heavy drinking.
Now that we’ve established parameters for alcohol abuse and defined the two most common types of diabetes, it’s time to address the question in the headline of today’s post: Can alcohol abuse cause diabetes?
Can Alcohol Abuse Cause Diabetes?
Experts have not established a definitive cause-effect relationship between alcohol abuse and diabetes. However, research indicates that long-term alcohol abuse can be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Also, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) cautions that alcohol’s interactions with common diabetes medications can increase the likelihood that a person who drinks may develop hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose. This risk can be magnified if a person who has diabetes drinks alcohol on an empty stomach.
The danger of developing hypoglycemia after drinking is that some symptoms of low blood glucose – such as sleepiness, slurred speech, minor confusion, and impaired coordination – are similar to the effects of being drunk. This means that a person who develops this condition may attribute what they’re feeling to the effects of alcohol, and not take appropriate corrective action.
Severe cases of hypoglycemia can cause convulsions, seizure, and loss of consciousness.
Other Health Risks Related to Alcohol Abuse
In addition to potentially elevating a person’s risk for diabetes or disrupting their blood sugar level, alcohol abuse has also been linked by several other negative health outcomes, such as the following:
- Fatty liver disease
- Alcohol-related hepatitis
- Alcoholic cirrhosis
- Several forms of cancer
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Heart disease
- Weakened immune system
If a person’s heavy drinking causes them to become addicted to alcohol, the likelihood that they will incur significant damage can increase considerably. Thankfully, when a person gets the right type and level of care, they can end their alcohol abuse and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
How to Find Help for Alcohol Addiction
To find the right source of help for alcohol addiction, ask the following questions of any treatment providers that you are considering:
- What types of programs and services do you offer?
- How will you determine which programs and services are right for me?
- What are the qualifications of the professionals who provide care at your center?
- Do you offer dual diagnosis support for people who have co-occurring mental health concerns?
- What is the typical length of stay at your treatment center?
- Do you offer family support services?
- Can you describe your aftercare planning service?
- How do you define success for your patients or clients?
- What happens if I relapse after I complete treatment?
- Does your center accept my insurance?
Remember: There are many paths to recovery from alcohol addiction. When you are evaluating treatment centers, focus on finding the provider whose services align most closely with your needs and goals.
Begin Treatment for Alcohol Addiction in Worcester, Massachusetts
If you or someone in your life has become addicted to alcohol, please know that help is available. Lake Avenue Recovery Center offers personalized alcohol rehab in Masschusetts who have developed alcoholism and other forms of addiction, as well as certain dual diagnosis disorders.
Features of care at our alcohol addiction treatment center in Worcester, Massachusetts, include customized services, multiple types of therapy, day and evening options, family support, and detailed aftercare planning to promote continued progress.
To learn more about how we can help you or your loved one, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call us today.