What does alcohol do to my glucose levels?

Alcohol's effect on your blood sugar has a lot to do with context: how much you're drinking, if you're fasting and the type of alcohol.


Article highlights

  • Alcohol inhibits the liver's production of new glucose and can dangerously lower blood sugar in people who are fasting or in ketosis.
  • Drinking alcohol before a carbohydrate-rich meal may lower post-meal glucose and insulin compared to the meal alone.
  • Chronic heavy alcohol use damages the pancreas and causes insulin resistance, increasing risk for diabetes.
  • Binge drinking, even monthly, promotes inflammation and insulin resistance that persists after alcohol is metabolized.
  • Compared to abstaining or heavy drinking, light-moderate alcohol intake seems to lower diabetes risk, potentially by increasing adiponectin levels.

Figure 1: J-shaped curve showing the odds ratio for developing Type 2 diabetes in relation to alcohol consumption rates. Source


As we’ve seen, alcohol has multiple complex effects on metabolism and glucose levels. Research shows that light-to-moderate consumption likely won’t have an immediate significant impact on healthy people’s glucose levels because the body has fine-tuned compensatory mechanisms to keep blood glucose in a relatively stable range in the setting of alcohol intake. It is important to note that other factors like fasting or ketosis might lead to a more pronounced impact of alcohol on glucose and can make even light drinking risky. Over the long term, light-to-moderate alcohol consumption appears to have a mild protective effect on some aspects of metabolic health, specifically diabetes risk. In contrast, heavy drinking in the short or long term can set us up for higher rates of insulin resistance and impaired glucose regulation.

For more information on how alcohol impacts people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, see this article from Tandem Diabetes.