Managing a diabetes problem means paying close attention to each and every molecule of food and drink that enters the body. Strict control like this can keep blood sugar levels in check, and sometimes a proper diet can reduce a person’s need for diabetes medications. Unfortunately, some people add drugs or alcohol into their dietary mix, and when they do, control of the disease could become elusive.
Substance Abuse Among Diabetics
Anyone could choose to amend the body’s chemistry with drugs and alcohol.
But people with diabetes might be prone to abusing substances, simply because of the pressures they face due to the day-in-day-out pressures of controlling a chronic condition.
For example, young people with type1 diabetes grow up under a cloud of restrictions. They can’t eat birthday cake, gorge on Halloween candy or run around barefoot in the springtime. They might feel just different than their peers, and they might long for the day in which they can shed all of their restrictions and live a life that’s free. When these young people hit adolescence, they might choose to rebel against their diagnosis, dabbling in foods they shouldn’t eat and skipping medication doses just to see what might happen. According to an article in Diabetic Medicine, the poorest level of glycemic control is seen in people who are between the ages of 16 to 18, and unfortunately, this is the point at which many young people are also tempted to abuse drugs. The consequences of poor diet control and drug use can be severe, as this article suggests that drug use is associated with death due to diabetes events in this age group.
When adulthood arrives, people with diabetes might be slightly more likely to adhere to a strict diet and medication routine. However, people with diabetes might also feel as though they can control their diabetes to such a degree that they can drink or use drugs, and then use their medications to keep them from serious medical complications. In a study of the issue, in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, researchers found that alcohol abuse prevalence among those with diabetes stood at 50 to 60 percent, and those who abused substances had much poorer health outcomes than people who didn’t abuse substances. It’s clear that people who think they can control the consequences of drug use aren’t as adept at the activity as they might think.
While it’s easy to understand why people who have diabetes might be tempted to use and abuse substances, it can be a dangerous habit for people to participate in, as these substances can sometimes interact with the body in strange and unusual ways that people with diabetes couldn’t possibly predict or control.
Alcohol, for example, is simply loaded with sugar. In addition, alcohol is often paired with sugary mixers like:
- Fruit juice
- Simple syrup
- Crushed fruit
The alcohol could cause a spike in blood sugar, and the mixers that come with an alcoholic drink could do further damage. But the intoxication a drink like this can produce could make people feel so sleepy and comfortable that they’re able to ignore the symptoms of a blood sugar problem altogether.
Even drugs that don’t seem capable of producing a blood sugar problem could be deadly for people who have diabetes. For example, heroin seems to interact with the pancreas, according to research published in Practical Diabetes International, and the complex chain reactions heroin can cause could produce hyperglycemia. Again, people who are high might not notice that anything is amiss with their bodies, and they might not be quick to take action, but the drugs could be causing reactions that could prove fatal.
Cocaine can also make life harder for people with diabetes, as the drug seems capable of doing a significant amount of damage to the kidneys, according to research published in QJM. Since people who have diabetes already struggle to keep their kidneys in good condition, adding in cocaine could make true control of the disease incredibly difficult.
The act of taking drugs could also impair a person’s ability to deal with the daily tasks required for proper glucose control. People who take drugs might not eat on a regular schedule, and they may not take their medications properly. They might not even refill their medications at all or keep appointments with their doctors. And they may not perform the exercises that can keep their weight down and their diabetes control up. When life is ruled by drug abuse, all other tasks can seem unimportant or even unnecessary.
While people who have diabetes might take drugs in order to feel pleasure or relaxation, allowing them to step away from their responsibilities for just a moment or two, there are a number of other steps they could take to reduce a feeling of stress and isolation and make life seem a little more worthwhile.
For example, many people with diabetes find that participating in a support group is beneficial. Here, they can meet with other people who have diabetes, and they can discuss the various challenges they face due to the ongoing need to keep blood sugar levels under control. They can share tips, outline challenges and otherwise discuss their concerns openly, without feeling the need to explain their backgrounds or apologize for their thoughts. Meetings like this can be helpful, and for some, regular participation could obliterate the need for drugs altogether.
Similarly, some people with diabetes take drugs in order to escape the pain and fear that comes with living with a chronic condition. Drugs can allow the mind to clear and pleasure to flow in, banishing dark thoughts to the stratosphere, at least for a moment. Mindful meditation can do the same thing, and there are no drugs involved. Here, people learn how to focus their minds on the positive, so they can acknowledge a negative thought or emotion when it appears, and then move on without acting upon that negative emotion. It gives a person control, and for someone with diabetes, that could be vital. A study in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine even suggests that this type of meditation could reduce blood pressure and harmful blood glucose levels.
Even participating in a hobby might help. Joining a knitting circle, for example, could give people the opportunity to socialize with others, and the act of making something useful could produce a happy sensation similar to that produced by drugs, with no harmful side effects.
However, people with a longstanding drug abuse problem can’t simply shut off the switch one day and stop using drugs without giving it another thought. Substances of abuse can produce profound changes in electrical activity inside the brain, and that can make clearheaded thinking difficult or impossible.
- Medical detox practitioners
- Social workers
- Alternative medicine providers
In a structured program, people can get sober in a safe and controlled manner, and they can learn how to control the symptoms associated with drug abuse and with diabetes. In counseling, they can explore their fears and concerns, and in therapy, they can come up with a better set of tools they can use when times are tough. When this program is complete, people might not feel the need to use at all, and at that point, they can move on to live a life that’s healthy, and that isn’t dominated by illness or despair. If you’d like to help someone you love to achieve a robust recovery like this, please call. We can help you to find a Dual Diagnosis program that provides just the sort of help you need.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton