Drinking may pose health risk for type 1 diabetics

Individuals with type 1 diabetes are generally warned to avoid drinking alcohol in excess. The reason is it can lower blood sugar levels, which may be dangerous in people who have impaired metabolic health. However, a new report suggests that many individuals with the condition may be ignoring these warnings.

A study published in the British Medical Journal indicates that alcohol-related deaths among diabetics rose considerably during the past three decades. While overall treatment outcomes improved during this time, the gains were largely erased by rising rates of alcohol use.

For the study, a team of Finnish researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 17,000 individuals under the age of 30 who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes between 1970 and 1999.

Among those who were diagnosed with the condition at a young age (before their 15th birthday) life expectancy improved over the course the study, as fewer individuals suffered from chronic health complications like heart disease or kidney failure.

However, among diabetics who developed the condition after the age of 15, the researchers found that alcohol use increased dramatically during the course of the study period. The results showed that 39 percent of deaths that occurred within the first 20 years of a participant having diabetes were attributable to drinking.

"This highlights the importance of permanent and long lasting doctor-patient relationships, close supervision and guidance on the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol in young people with type 1 diabetes, especially in our alcohol permissive cultures," the researchers wrote in their report.

Diabetics who were diagnosed later in life may be more likely to have already started drinking or be less accustomed to making disease management a central part of their life. This is one potential for why alcohol-related problems were more common among this group.

The American Diabetes Association says that individuals with type 1 diabetes should not drink if they can avoid it, but if they choose to consume alcohol, it should be done in moderation and with food. Drinking slowly, choosing low-calorie beverages and only having an alcoholic drink while blood sugar is tightly controlled are important for avoiding any adverse reactions to drinking.

Those who are taking medications to lower their glucose levels need to take extra precautions, because alcohol can cause blood sugar to drop even further. This puts a person with type 1 diabetes at risk for experiencing hypoglycemia. The symptoms of this condition may be similar to drunkenness, and include confusion, dizziness and disorientation. It may lead to a loss of consciousness.

As highlighted by the results of the study, it is very important for diabetics to understand that they may not be able to indulge in alcohol the way other people do. While having a glass of wine with dinner may be reasonable, a night of bar-hopping might be a bad idea.