You might suspect that drinking alcohol would cause your body to react similarly to consuming other carbohydrates. Alcohol is filled with calories. The surprising difference is that alcohol needs to be processed by the liver. Teen type 1 diabetics who drink can actually experience a drop in their blood glucose (BG) levels as their liver focuses on processing the alcohol and doesn’t work on its other function – releasing glycogen into the blood stream.
Another worry is the length of time it takes the liver to process alcohol. Did you know that your liver can be busy for one to one and a half hours handling just one alcoholic drink? Teens who drink multiple alcoholic beverages risk a low blood sugar event.
The symptoms of inebriation are similar to those of low blood sugar – sweating, lightheadedness, shakiness, weakness, anxiety, hunger, headache, problems concentrating, and confusion – which can make it more difficult for teens to sense that their blood sugar is trending too low. The best answer is to test BG levels.
Top Tips for Teens
If your teen decides to attend a party or share a drink with friends, they can minimize the negative impacts by heeding these ideas:
- Make Moderation your Mantra – alternate alcoholic drinks with water or other non-sugary beverages to prevent dehydration. Wait between drinks to allow your body to catch up.
- Food is Your Friend – Eat healthy snacks including fats and protein before, during and after drinking. Consider enjoying a drink along with a meal instead. Eating prior to bedtime will also help prevent hypoglycemic events during sleep.
- Don’t Guess -Test – Bring along testing supplies – don’t rely on how you feel as an accurate gauge of your BG level, test to confirm. A Continuous Glucose Monitor can be a great tool to monitor BG levels.
- Alert your Friends – Educate your friends on the symptoms of low and high BG level events. Have a buddy that can help just like a designated driver to watch for worrisome symptoms. They can remind you to test and eat snacks. Consider wearing a diabetic alert bracelet or necklace.
If you vomit it is even more important to test BG levels and consume non-alcoholic drinks to rehydrate.
Tips for Parents
Communicating with teens about drinking is a challenge for all parents. As with most difficult topics, open, and honest communication goes a long way. Talk about your concerns in advance – before any party invitations. Educate yourself and your teen about the effects of drinking in general and the special considerations for those with type 1 diabetes.
Even if there will be consequences if your underage teen drinks, consider creating an agreement so that they know they can contact you for help if they run into trouble. This will keep them safe and keep their diabetes in control. Seek support from your teen’s healthcare providers and/or diabetes educators if needed.
Once your son or daughter knows all the potential and possibly life-threatening side effects to their health from drinking, we can hope they will seek out other activities that aren’t focused solely on drinking.
JDF – Teen Tool Kit
The 411 on CGM
American Diabetes Association – Teens & Parties