Before we get started here let me just say this one thing – I don’t condone or encourage underage drinking by any means. With that being said, I’m also realistic and I know that I did it, you’ve likely done it and most or all of our friends have done it too. I wish someone had given me tips for drinking when I was in college and I could’ve avoided a few scary nights. Which leads me to my first point.
Let’s talk about why drinking alcohol can be especially dangerous for those of us with type one diabetes. I am going to put this in simple terms because well, those are the terms I know. Lol. I’m certainly not a doctor, and I don’t know every single thing there is to know about diabetes and drinking. This is just what I have learned over the years. So. All of us have a liver, right? Ok so if you don’t know, one of your livers main jobs is to get rid of toxins in the body. Your liver also keeps vitamins and glycogen sort of stocked piled up and releases glucose into your body to help it function. As a type one diabetic this is why we need what’s called basal insulin. Our bodies are still producing this glucose just like a non diabetics body would, except we don’t have the insulin to help turn that glucose into fuel. So, we use an insulin pump that delivers essentially a small amount of insulin every hour, or, if we are using MDI (multiple daily injections), we take a separate long lasting insulin to help regulate blood sugars throughout the day. This basal insulin (or long lasting insulin) are in addition to the insulin we take when we eat/drink anything or we are correcting a high blood sugar. Back to the booze and diabetes part. When anyone (diabetic or not) drinks alcohol, their liver stops producing that glucose and attempts to rid your body of the toxins from the alcohol. It can only do one job at a time so that glucose isn’t getting released. This can create a problem for those of us with non insulin producing pancreases AKA Type One Diabetics. When we have an alcoholic drink, our liver is also trying to get rid of the toxins. But, our insulin pump is still delivering that basal insulin (or we still have that long lasting insulin in our bodies). You can probably see where we might run into a problem here. We’re taking insulin to cover glucose that our body naturally produces, but our body isn’t producing the glucose when we drink alcohol. Here comes the low blood sugars. This is why it can be tricky to have drinks that have carbs in them. If I have an alcoholic drink that has a lot of carbs and I therefor need to take insulin for it, it’s basically like I’m stacking insulin and I am going to make myself go low later on. I say later on because it usually takes a while for your body to sort of catch up and realize that you’re no longer getting that glucose you usually do, and you’re essentially taking extra insulin for nothing. This is why us as type ones can frequently go low much later in the evening or even the next day. It takes your liver a decent amount of time to rid your body of all the toxins in the alcohol, especially if you’ve had a few too many, so you may not be getting that extra glucose for quite some time.
This is where some tips and tricks from an ol’ drinking veteran like me comes in handy. LOL I’m just kidding. Kinda. But not really. This shit will hopefully save your life.
1. TELL YOUR DAMN FRIEND(S) YOU HAVE TYPE ONE DIABETES AND WHAT TO DO IF ANYTHING HAPPENS!
This is a big one folks. It might be super obvious to some of us but maybe not to others. It is SO incredibly important that at least one of your friends know that you are diabetic, and knows what to do should anything happen. I’m not kidding when I tell you one of my best friends to this day (see that sexy woman below) saved my life one night because she knew that when I drank a little too much and passed out, she HAD to call 911. Not just let me “sleep it off.” I’ll tell that story another day because it was a huge learning point for me but my point is that you have to let at least one person know. Tell them you are diabetic. Show them your glucagon and how to use it. Let them know that if anything happens to you they need to call 911. It doesn’t matter if you will get in trouble or if they will get in trouble. Someone will be getting in a lot more trouble than just being caught underage drinking if you die. That’s a really scary thought but it’s SO true that I can’t emphasize it enough. Getting caught drinking underage is no fun, who wants to be in trouble? But in the grande scheme of things it’s really not that big of a deal when you compare it to potentially costing you your life. (Also, peep the purple blackberry in my hand)
2. ALWAYS carry low blood sugar supplies…and maybe an extra snack.
To this day whenever I go out I always carry glucose tabs or candy or a juice box or something with me in case I go low and I’m not at a place that I can just buy a juice. At this point in my life it has just become part of the routine for me whenever I go out. Got my lipstick? Check. Got my ID and credit cards? Check. Got my Smarties? Check. It’s really not that hard and it doesn’t have to be a big bulky juice box especially if you’re a lady and all you’re taking out with you is a small wristlet or clutch. There are plenty of candy options that you can squirrel away quite nicely in even the smallest of purses. Similarly, when I was in college if I went out to like house parties, which was pretty much every time I went out since I was underage and wasn’t going to the bars…I usually always included a little snack as well. Something that was still small enough to fit in my purse like a granola bar or something. But you don’t wanna be that girl with low blood sugar who ate all her Smarties and still feels like she’s going to die in the middle of the Frat house dance floor and all they have for food is some old crusty ramen noodles.
3. Always take your supplies with you! AND BRING EXTRAS!
You ever just have those days where you really don’t want to have to carry around a purse or bag with your meter, your test strips, your syringes, your insulin vial, your low supplies, your extra pump site? YA SAME. But ahh such is life with type one diabetes. YOU DON’T HAVE A CHOICE! Lol. Even if you’re going to a Bassnectar concert with a bunch of girls and you’re doing your best to fit in and look like a party girl. YOU BUY A DAMN FANNY PACK 😂 (see below). And this was before they were cool guys… But okay, yes sometimes it sucks but you gotta do it. You need this stuff to take care of yourself and that doesn’t end just because you’re getting drunk and going to a dub step concert (thank God that phase ended). I was able to pull it off quite nicely with my outfit if I do say so myself. I also had a much flatter stomach than I do now but ya know, life happens lol. ALSO – I’m like 90% sure (don’t quote me on this) it is illegal for you to not be allowed to bring all this crap in with you to a concert or professional sports game or whatever you’re at. Tell them it’s all medical stuff for Type One Diabetes and you’ll be good. If they give you any shit, give it right back and I promise they’ll change their mind.
4. Please don’t be afraid to take care of yourself while you’re out.
If your friends aren’t complete a**holes then they should be completely fine with you when you say you need to stop dancing for a minute to check your blood sugar and maybe have some smarties. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re too low or too high, feeling like crap and then end up having to leave all the fun right?! Best to just take care of yourself in the time being and then you can still enjoy your time out with your friends. If you’ve got friends that support you and understand you have to do this then you should never feel bad about it. If your friends do ever try to make you feel bad about it or like they’re annoyed….then you need some new “friends” love. I’ve always surrounded myself with ladies (and gentlemen) who understand that sometimes I need to just sit down for a minute. Or that I need you to go ask the bartender for some cranberry juice for me because I’ve been dancing my butt off and my blood sugar is definitely dropping (shout out Connor, thanks girl).
5. Stick to low carb drinks.
I would say about 9 times out of 10 when I drink I try to have something with little to no carbs in it. Now, when I was in college that meant I was mostly drinking shots (PUKE). And I really don’t recommend that because it can be dangerous and you can lose count or how many you’ve had. But I won’t lie to you and say I never did shots. Like I said, I’m realistic here. But now that I’m a sophisticated young woman you’ll find me sipping on a vodka soda these days. JK I’m really not more sophisticated, I can still get down a little too hard some days, but I really do mostly drink vodka sodas or something of the sort. White Claws are a personal fav @ only 2 carbs! This is really my personal preference but to me it makes drinking with diabetes much easier. I’ll still drink beer and wine pretty frequently, but sometimes those can be harder to maintain good blood sugar control with. As with all things in life, everything in moderation. I still will have a fruity cocktail now and then or a margarita when the mood hits me. It’s just that I know how much more difficult these drinks, FOR ME (you may be different and that’s fine), make it to control my numbers, so if I do have this type of drink, I’ll generally only have one and then switch to something more low carb.
6. Don’t Black Out. Just Don’t.
When I started my freshman year this was actually something that was really hard for me. I wasn’t going and getting blacked out every weekend, in fact I’ve only ever blacked out literally I think twice in my life. But, college can be such a huge drinking and party scene that it can be hard to remember to maintain control and not go overboard. Like I mentioned before I had a really bad experience the fall of my freshman year that taught me a lot about drinking with this disease. The thing that we as diabetics have to remember is that we really aren’t just like everyone else when it comes to this. Blacking out is so “mainstream” these days and everyone seems to do it. It can be easy to think that for some odd reason it might be fun and that you want to do it too. But imagine this. You’re a type one diabetic. You’re a freshman in college. You’ve met some new friends and you’re going out to a party with them. They know you’re diabetic but you end up blacking out and not remembering anything that happened. What if you blacked out and didn’t remember that you need to test your blood sugar? What if you blacked out and didn’t remember that you needed to take your insulin? What if you blacked out and left your purse or bag at some random party and now the next morning you’ve got not meter, test, strips, and insulin vial. These could all be seriously dangerous scenarios. Blacking out for a type one diabetic is much more dangerous than that of the average person. It’s not safe for anyone in all reality, but for us it’s even more dangerous. Luckily for me the very few times I ever did I was with people that I knew really well and trusted with me life. But if you’re young and in college and just meeting some new friends, you might not know what they would actually do in a scary situation like this. I’m not trying to scare us diabetics into not drinking at all. In fact I believe that we can have just as much fun as our friends as long as we’re taking care of ourselves at the same time. What I am trying to do though is get you to realize how valuable and precious our lives our. We make life threatening decisions on the daily with this disease. Just take a minute to be prepared for everything that could happen if you chose to drink. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” We live a life of planning as type ones, drinking with diabetes requires that same step! Always plan on bringing the Bud Lights to the tailgate party 🤣🍻 (~6 carbs)!
I imagine every Type One has different tips and tricks when it comes to drinking with diabetes. These are just some of my favorites and some of the ones that I think are really important. Of course there are other tips that just sort of go along with drinking in general. Like: make sure you eat before you start drinking, make sure someone knows where you are at all times, drink water in between drinks, etc. I just want to share with anyone out there who may be in college or going to college who is choosing to make their own decisions to drink alcohol, but looking for ways to be safe, smart, and still have a good time.
Again, I don’t condone underage drinking, but wouldn’t any parents or loved ones of type ones out there reading this rather have their child be safe about it than go into it blindly, thinking they’ll be fine just like the rest of their friends?