Underage and prepping for Paddy's day, I desperately searched the web for an answer to the question, 'can type 1 diabetics drink alcohol’. What did I find? Articles telling me to consult my healthcare professional and to limit the amount of alcohol units to two. So, being the rowdy teen I was (sorry mum), I shrugged it off and went with €3 cans of cider. Had the results been helpful, I would've learned that this was perhaps the worst choice for me. Even to this day it is still nearly impossible to find a straightforward answer to this question online.
Insulin and Alcohol
The straightforward answer is obviously yes, type one diabetics can drink alcohol. However, with plenty of terms and conditions. Alcohol and insulin are a dangerous combo for multiple reasons. On my first sun holiday with friends, I nearly went into a coma simply due to a few cocktails and a misjudgement of how much insulin to take with them. Walking home, I felt the low and even after a full packet of lucozade tablets, I was left in a such a state that I walked into a window and couldn't communicate. Thankfully, I had my friend Katie who:
Knew the difference between me having a hypo and being drunk.
Has fantastic upper body strength (carried me up 6 flights of stairs)
Knew what to do in the situation (fed me literal spoons of sugar and a pot of pasta)
However, I unfortunately wouldn't have Katie to save the day every time I went for a few drinks. So, I had to make sure to never put myself in that vulnerable situation again. Nope, I definitely haven't cut out alcohol, I simply choose wisely. Here's how.
Wine is my go-to for a casual tipple, Pinot Grigio to be exact. but most of this sugar is fermented into alcohol. I often drink glasses of wine and see no change in my blood sugar whatsoever as long as it is a dry wine. Sweet wines will raise my blood sugars, dry wines do not. So, when drinking wine, you need to get specific. For champagne, you’re looking for the words extra brut or extra sec on the bottle and you’re avoiding the word doux. For a glass of white, a Pinot Grigio is bone dry and delicious. It usually has only 3g carbs per glass, which makes it a great choice of something to sip on after a long week's (or day’s) work. Failing that, next on the dry line is a French Savignion Blanc. For a dry red, I’d recommend a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Pinot Noir. If wine is slightly too heavy or you're yet to get used to the taste, try a wine spritzer. Simply mix the wine half and half with a slimline tonic. It's fabulous on a summer's day!
Vodka, Sparkling water & Lime
As much as I love a glass of wine, I don't love the way a couple more make me feel in the morning. Wine is the WORST for headaches the next day, so if I'm out for the night I'll always opt for a vodka, sparkling water and a little lime cordial. Although some bars may not always have a diet mixer, the vast majority will have sparkling water and the little bit of lime gives it a nice taste! The lime cordial doesn't affect my sugar levels much as the alcohol and being out and about will keep them steady regardless.
Gin & SLIMLINE
Gin and tonics seem to be all the rage these days, and you don't have to miss out! Simply order a slimline tonic rather than a normal one. A normal little bottle of tonic has 30g of sugar. A slimline has zero grams of sugar or carbs, and they taste exactly the same. It's often happened where I've ordered a slimline and get a normal tonic, and I always go up and change it. If it means I don't have to take a shot of insulin, I'll take the eye roll from the bartender.
This is where I fall down, as espresso martinis are my weakness. However, Doug Strain, otherwise known as 'The Diabetic Bartender', is here to help with that. It's Doug's mission to provide diabetics with sugar-free and low carb drinks, that aren't "skinny margaritas". He begins by explaining that if you plug your nose while eating a raw onion, you will taste an apple. I'm just going to take his word for that, but the point is that a lot of what you "taste" isn't really taste at all, and this is what he uses to his advantage when creating his cocktails. Here's the recipe to his special Horse Neck cocktail that you can make at home:
What you need:
2 oz bourbon/brandy
2 dashes Angostura bitters (available in most off licenses)
Peel of a lemon
What to do:
Pour the bourbon into a highball glass and add chilled soda water until it's about 2/3 full. A horse neck lemon is a big, fat, organic lemon that's worthless for juice but great for zesting. He recommends getting a Y shaped vegetable peeler, starting at the top and spiraling down until most of the peel is one long piece.
Carefully squeeze 3/4 of the oils from the peel directly into the glass and the remaining 1/4 of the peel around the outside rim and wall of the glass. Lightly mix, gently place the peel into the glass, add ice cubes and a (paper?)straw and voilla! He has another, slightly more complex recipe to Constante's Compromise cocktail on his website here which would be great to try out for a cocktail night!
Lastly, never forget to eat a snack before going to bed!! Alcohol can cause your sugars to drop overnight if you've had an evening of drinking, so I always have a little snack of about 10g of carbs before dozing off.
So, those are my tips for drinking alcohol with type one diabetes. By sticking with drinks that don't require much insulin, blood sugars are definitely easier to manage. Hope this has helped!