McMaster University

McMaster University

Alcohol and diabetes can be a deadly mix

Dr. Christina Grant 

The Hamilton Spectator

Wed Dec 07 2011 

Q: The teen years are often a time of experimenting with alcohol and drugs. My child has Type 1 diabetes. What are the risks of my teenager experimenting with this, and what can I do about it?

A: The teen years are a time of experimenting with alcohol and drugs. But that doesn't necessarily mean your teen is. The 2011 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Use Annual Survey was released last week. It shows that, in Ontario, among students in grades 7 to 12, 55 per cent drank alcohol at least once in the past year. In contrast, 9 per cent have smoked cigarettes and 22 per cent have smoked marijuana at least once in the past year. Alcohol remains the most common drug.

Drinking alcohol carries with it some unique risks for teens with Type 1 diabetes. Regardless of whether your teen is drinking, a teen with diabetes needs to know some facts. The liver has to clean out the "poison" alcohol from the body, which takes time and, as a result, the liver is not able to respond appropriately if the blood sugar goes low. Normally, the liver breaks down something called glycogen to keep sugar in a normal range. When a person is drinking, the liver is "preoccupied" by getting rid of the alcohol in the body and may not respond as usual, which could result in low sugar or hypoglycemia, which can be deadly.

How can you help your teen to be safe?

 •  Make sure your teen always wears his/her MedicAlert, which is more important than ever in a social situation where alcohol and drugs may be present.

 •  Let your teen know it's important to understand the facts about alcohol and diabetes, share this article, and suggest he/she talk to the family doctor or diabetes doctor about this.

 •  Insist that your teen have a friend with him/her at a party who knows about the diabetes so that if your teen feels or looks unwell, someone knows what to do.

How teens with Type 1 diabetes can keep themselves safe:

 •  Check your sugar before you go out for the evening, a couple times when you are out and always before you go to bed.

 •  Eat normally before going out and eat while you are out, especially if you are drinking alcohol.

 •  Always carry your glucometer and a source of simple carbohydrates (for example: hard candies) and make sure your friend knows where they are.

 •  Limit yourself to no more than two standard-size drinks that are low in carbohydrates (low-carb beer, wine, rum, vodka) and avoid sugary drinks (wine coolers) or regular beer, which is very high in carbohydrates.

 •  If drinking hard liquor, stretch drinks with mixers such as diet pop that do not contain carbohydrates.

 •  Do not take extra insulin to compensate for the carbohydrates in the alcohol.

House Calls is written weekly by experts at Hamilton Health Sciences. Dr. Christina Grant is an adolescent medicine physician at McMaster Children's Hospital.

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