Diabetes and Hangovers: What You Need to Know


Anyone who lives with diabetes knows that a hangover can wreak havoc not only on productivity and sense of well-being but also on your blood sugars, leaving them unpredictable for hours and even days. When you’ve had too much to drink and you’re feeling hungover, what can you do?

This article will touch upon the best course of action to take to help your diabetes management when you are hungover, the best food and beverages to help treat a hangover, and how you can prevent a hangover in the future.

What Exactly Is a Hangover?

A hangover, quite simply, is the culmination of unpleasant symptoms that develop several hours after drinking too much alcohol. Common signs of a hangover include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Dizziness
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Decreased ability to concentrate

More severe symptoms of a hangover include:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Low body temperature
  • Excessive vomiting (not able to hold down water)
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Blue-tinged skin
  • Loss of consciousness

If someone you know is experiencing severe symptoms of a hangover, seek emergency medical treatment immediately, or call 911.

So You’re Hungover; What Should You Do?

A hangover’s nemesis is time and hydration. Most hangovers disappear within 24 hours, although some can last for days. It can be excruciating, but sometimes you simply must wait it out.

While you’re waiting, the next best thing you can do is hydrate with water (about 15.5 cups, or 3.7 liters, of fluids a day for men and about 11.5 cups, or 2.7 liters, of fluids a day for women), and make sure to get plenty of electrolytes from sources such as coconut water and sports drinks (although make sure to count carbohydrates and dose insulin appropriately, if needed).

The caffeine in coffee can also energize you and can be beneficial for headaches and sleepiness after a night of drinking. Staying adequately hydrated will also make blood sugar management easier.

It is also extremely important to keep a close watch on your blood sugars and watch for any signs or symptoms of developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can be life-threatening. Check your blood sugar every few hours or wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to make sure you’re staying in range, as recommended by your doctor.

If you notice your blood sugar remaining stubbornly high (at or above 250 mg/dL) for several hours or more and you have moderate to high ketones, contact your doctor right away and seek medical attention to prevent developing DKA. You may need IV fluids administered at a hospital to hydrate and an intravenous insulin drip, which can bring blood sugars down more aggressively than subcutaneous injections at home.

Some people experience low blood sugars after a night of drinking because the liver is busy processing the alcohol content from drinks consumed, leaving one to fend for themselves because glycogen (glucose) will not be released if one’s blood sugar starts to drop. The more one drinks, the greater the likelihood of low blood sugar, which can be dangerous.

glucose tabs

Tip: Carry glucose tabs when you’re drinking with friends. | Photo credit: iStock

People with diabetes should always carry glucose tabs or gel with them in case of an emergency low and should check their blood sugar regularly both during and after drinking. It’s also important to remember that some diabetes medications may not work as well if too much alcohol is consumed, especially type 2 diabetes medications.

If your blood sugars are staying within range and you don’t feel too nauseous, make sure to eat a good meal, which helps combat hangovers and stabilizes blood sugar. Aim for a balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Some recommended foods include:

  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Eggs
  • Avocados
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Toast
  • Crackers
  • Clear broth soup

Getting plenty of sleep also helps remedy a hangover; alcohol notoriously disturbs sleep patterns, so if you didn’t get a good night’s rest after drinking, taking a nap the next day can help you bounce back quicker.

Some people take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, to manage symptoms. If you’re unsure what to take or are worried about the side effects of any over-the-counter medication, talk with your doctor about what will work best for you.

Finally, even though you may not feel well, getting outside for a quick, 20-minute walk can help revitalize you, get some fresh air into your lungs, and help you feel better faster. While vigorous exercise is not recommended while hungover, some light exercise can boost not only your mental health but will charge the cardiovascular system and speed up recovery.

How to Prevent a Hangover

The surest way to prevent a hangover is by abstaining from alcohol or only drinking in moderation. Some other tactics to help prevent hangovers include:

  • Drink alcohol only with food and never on an empty stomach
  • Drink slowly
  • Make sure you stay hydrated with water while drinking (a good rule of thumb is drinking one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage)
  • Keep a close watch on your blood sugar (sugary alcoholic beverages can make your blood sugars spike, while the alcohol itself can make you crash. Be wary of both consequences and check your blood sugar often).
  • Avoid sugary mixed drinks and sweet wines, which are not only bad for blood sugars but may also make hangovers much worse. Instead, mix liquor with water, seltzer water, or diet drinks.
  • Know your limits, and stick to them
  • Stick with friends or family who will watch (and potentially limit) your alcohol intake
  • Avoid alcohol that contains higher amounts of congeners: congeners give many types of alcoholic beverages their flavor. They are found in larger amounts primarily in dark liquors (like brandy and bourbon) and contribute to worse hangovers. Instead, choose lighter beverages such as vodka, white wine, or gin
  • Eat something (like a banana) and drink water before going to bed after a night of drinking

Hangovers are an unpleasant side-effect of drinking alcohol, and having a hangover with diabetes makes them all the more complicated. But with these strategies, you can help prevent hangovers in the future, while still imbibing from time to time.

If you think you have a problem with drinking or develop signs of alcohol addiction, get help immediately.

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