Diabetes and Substance Abuse

The Relationship between Diabetes and Substance Abuse
Diabetes and substance abuse are two conditions that can seriously impact health. It is not only in their potential to cause damage that relates these two together. There can also be a more direct relationship between them. Some people may develop diabetes because of excessive alcohol intake. It is also likely that any form of substance abuse will make life worse for the diabetic. Alcohol in particular can be dangerous for anyone trying to manage their diabetes.

Diabetes Mellitus
[Diabetes Mellitus](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diabetes_mellitus) refers to a number of conditions that interfere with the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. This is normally kept in check by a hormone called insulin which is produced by the pancreas. With diabetes there is not adequate insulin produced or the cells are not responding as they should to this hormone. If glucose levels in the bloodstream climb too high it can cause a lot of damage to body organs – this is referred to as hyperglycemia.

Types of Diabetes
Diabetes doesn’t just refer to one disorder but includes:

* Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent diabetes mellitus) occurs because there has been a [loss of insulin producing cells in the pancreas](http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000305.htm). This can lead to a situation where there is little or no insulin being produced. This condition most often first gets diagnosed in childhood, and this is why it is also sometimes referred to as juvenile onset diabetes. Those who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin shots, or use an insulin pump, in order to control their blood sugar levels.
* Type 2 diabetes usually occurs later in life and this is why it is sometimes called adult onset diabetes. With this condition the pancreas is usually able to produce at least some insulin, but the cells have become more resistant to the hormone. Type II diabetes is often said to occur because of poor lifestyle choices, especially diet or alcohol abuse. Many people with diabetes take medication instead of insulin injections and this is why it is also referred to as non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.
* Gestational diabetes is a temporary disorder that can occur in pregnant women.

The Dangers of Diabetes
Uncontrolled diabetes is dangerous because it can mean periods of high blood sugars (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugars (hypoglycemia). Both of these extremes can be damaging for the body. The potential complications of diabetes include:

* High blood sugar can lead to kidney damage
* Diabetes can lead to blindness because of damage to the retina
* Paralysis can occur because of damage to nerve cells
* [Diabetic neuropathy](http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/neuropathies/) can lead to limb amputations or ulcers that are hard to treat
* This condition increases the risk of cardiac arrest
* Those individuals who have diabetes are more likely to develop high blood pressure
* High or low blood sugars can both lead to coma and death
* [Diabetic ketoacidosis](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diabetic_ketoacidosis) is a medical emergency and occurs when the body reacts to a shortage of insulin by burning up fatty acids. This leads to a rise in Ketones which can lead to death if not treated.

Alcohol Abuse Increases Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
It is doubtful that alcohol abuse can lead to type I diabetes, but there is good reason to think that [it can lead to type II diabetes](http://www.utexas.edu/research/asrec/alcoholfacts.html). Many alcoholics develop pancreatitis, and about one third of those with this condition will go on to develop diabetes. Alcohol abuse may also lead to glucose intolerance and obesity, which are both connected to type II diabetes.

The Dangers of Alcohol for Diabetics
Anyone who has been diagnosed with diabetes will need to be cautious around alcohol. Some diabetics will be advised against drinking at all, especially those who have [nerve damage, hypertension, or eye disease](http://alcoholism.about.com/od/diabetes/a/diabetes_risk.htm). Those who do drink should be careful to stick within safe limits. This is 2 drinks a day for men, one drink a day for women (one drink is equivalent to a standard beer or a glass of wine). The dangers of excessive alcohol use for diabetics include:

* Drinking alcohol can lead to high blood glucose levels. Drinks like beer and wine contain particularly high amounts of sugar.
* A lot of alcohol can cause dangerously low blood glucose levels. This is because of interference with the liver’s ability to release stored glucose.
* Alcohol abuse can worsen the nerve damage caused by diabetes.
* Alcohol can interfere with some diabetic medications so that they are not as effective.
* Alcohol makes some people hungry. This causes them to eat more than they should leading to hyperglycemia.
* Heavy drinking can worsen any eye disease caused by diabetes.

Diabetics should never drink on an empty stomach or when their blood sugar levels are low.

Recreational Drugs and Diabetes
Alcohol use can be particularly dangerous for diabetics, and this has led to claims that recreational drug use may be safer. It is hard to determine the veracity of such a claim as there has been no real research on the subject. It may be true that some recreational drugs have less of an impact on diabetes, but this is far from certain. It has been shown that [marijuana and cocaine can raise blood sugar level](http://www.diabeteshealth.com/read/2008/03/13/3163/legal-and-illegal-drugs-what-every-person-with-diabetes-should-know-before-they-party/). Even if it does turn out to be the case that recreational drugs are less dangerous for blood sugar levels, there are still plenty of other dangers to consider.

Symptoms of Diabetes
It is possible for people who are developing type II diabetes to not have any noticeable symptoms. The most [usual symptoms that people experience with diabetes](http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/symptoms/) include:

* Unexplained weight loss
* Fatigue
* Frequent thirst
* Passing excessive amounts of urine
* Often feeling hungry
* Irritability
* Skin, gum, or bladder infection
* Experiencing numbness in the feet or hands
* Blurry vision
* Recurrent infections
* Wounds are slow to heal

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