Drugs, Alcohol and Substance Misuse

Drugs and alcohol make managing diabetes difficult

Drugs and alcohol make it more difficult to manage diabetes in many ways. For instance, some alcoholic drinks like beer, cider, sweet wines and cocktails are high in sugar so you might put on weight or find it hard to lose weight.

Your sugar levels can go up or down because of alcohol and drugs, which can over time lead to diabetes complications or a hypoglycaemic episode (a hypo), which makes you unwell (shaky, anxious or blurred vision).

The symptoms of being drunk can be similar to those of a hypo.  So if you have a hypo whilst drunk, symptoms can be misinterpreted so you might not get the urgent treatment you need. Being drunk or on drugs makes you less aware of or careless about the dangers of having a hypo or about managing your diet.

Check out our page on alcohol and diabetes.

How certain drugs affect diabetes

Certain groups of drugs have a specific effect. Here are just a few of the problems you may have from common drug groups.

Cannabis and hallucinogenic drugs and diabetes

Cannabis and hallucinogenic drugs, like ketamine, magic mushrooms and LSD, can make you forget to eat or take your insulin.

Cannabis can also cause food cravings, so you may end up snacking on foods that raise your blood sugar level.

‘Uppers’ or stimulants and diabetes

Uppers such as cocaine and ecstasy can make you feel you have tons of energy because they increase the body’s metabolic rate. This means your body temperature goes up and you might do more, which can lead to dehydration and the risk of a hypo goes up.

Coming down from ‘uppers’ can leave you feeling very low, depressed, irritable and tired, which may cause you to miss food and insulin injections.

Opiates and diabetes

Heroin, Fentanyl and Codeine are opiates that slow down the brain, heart rate and breathing.

Being sick is common, so there is a risk that you may experience a hypoglycaemic episode. If you inject heroin, skin infections that don’t heal can be a serious problem.

Tackling a drug or alcohol problem

Using alcohol or drugs can sometimes be used as a way of coping, but this can be harmful and more damaging in the long run. If you or someone you know is having problems with alcohol or drugs, getting help and information is the first step to making changes.

Discuss your diabetes medication and your alcohol/drug problem with a healthcare professional. They can review your medicine and offer advice.

Taking small steps towards cutting down may be best for you, and there’s lots of online advice that covers ways to do that. So if you feel you can manage your problem, or don’t want to tell anyone about it, you can get good online advice from:

  • Drinkaware Trust’s website on alcohol
  • Frank, the government website on drugs

Tackling the issues that may be making you drink or use drugs is perhaps where you want to start. The NHS also has a great series of self-help therapy guides covering managing stress and anxiety, getting better sleep or coping with a low mood or lack of confidence.

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