Drinking 101: Type 1 Diabetes in College Edition

March 7, 2016

Before leaving for college, I had one last visit with my endocrinologist from back home. His parting words of advice to me were, “Now, if you remember anything about taking care of yourself in college, remember this: Hard alcohol will drop your blood sugar, drinks like beer will make it go up, and then you will drop.” I had never experienced alcohol before then; it was foreign and a little bit scary. This was mostly because my parents had always strongly advised against it. I don’t blame them for trying to condition me to stay away from it; if you aren’t careful, things can take a turn for the worst. Still, it is something that most all of us fellow type 1’s will try at one point in our lives. College just happens to be a time where most of the activities that happen revolve around alcohol. The thing to remember is that we can do anything and everything we want and diabetes will never stop us. Just keep in mind that in situations like this, taking extra precautions and experimenting within reason are very small prices to pay.

“The thing to keep in mind about alcohol is that it is pretty unpredictable.”
I decided that I would try a little bit at a time with different drinks, to see what effect they would have on me. The thing to keep in mind about alcohol is that it is pretty unpredictable. It can vary in outcomes based on many different factors. The most concerning part about drinking for people with type 1 diabetes are the overnight lows. Though I’ve had my fair share of miscalculations and faults, I always try to err on the side of caution. There is a list of tricks that I have up my sleeve to help me be prepared. So, in order to make sure that you are as safe as possible, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

Here are some things that have worked for me as a person who is on insulin shots (multiple daily injections):

Different liquors have different sugar content, and every individual person will have different reactions to it. Stick to one or two shots of alcohol that don’t have carbs or added sugar. In regards to mixed drinks, I have found it is it is best to stay away from sugary drinks like mojitos, since there are a lot more factors involved. Opting for diet soda instead of regular when mixing alcohol has been the safest way to go.

That being said, if you drink hard alcohol (like vodka) at night, make sure to set a few alarms sporadically throughout the time you will be sleeping. You are likely to go low, so it is best if you catch it early.

“Different liquors have different sugar content, and every individual person will have different reactions to it.”
It is important that the people around you are educated on diabetes and drinking. Make sure you stay with a sober friend/roommate who knows how to take care of you; however, since that is not always a possibility, setting a few alarms throughout the night is the next best thing. Setting alarms after a night of drinking any type of alcohol is a good idea, especially if you have more than a few drinks. For instance, if I am to only have a couple beers/drinks, I will most likely not set an alarm, particularly if I have eaten correctly and watched my BG closely throughout the night. These measures seem tedious, but if you are ever in a predicament where you are not able to take care of yourself, they can save your life!

It is always a good idea to eat something before you drink. I found it helpful to eat dinner and then a snack thirty minutes prior to drinking (usually a banana and some peanut butter to stabilize me). I tend to correct for food/BGs a little bit differently if I am planning on drinking. This works for me, but it might be different for you. The best thing to do is to experiment on a small scale, first.

If you have a CGM (continuous glucose monitor), wear it! They come in handy, particularly when you are drinking! You can get an idea of where your BG is going at all times. It might be a good idea to have a trusted sober friend keep an eye on it while you are out, too.

Also, remember to wear your Medic-Alert bracelet whenever you go out, because you never know when a time might come when you are unable to advocate for yourself if your friends aren’t nearby.
Remember that college is supposed to be fun, and you should never feel stressed out in situations like these. It’s easy to feel like a burden or embarrassed because of the extra things you have to do to compensate for having diabetes, but the people around you should be more than willing to help you out. Making sure that you are safe is never too much to ask. Cheers!

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