Diabetes Connection to Drug Addiction

diabetesDiabetes is a less-than-optimum physical condition which affects the way in which a body uses food for energy.    Normally, when a person ingests sugar, it is digested and broken-down into glucose—a simple sugar.  Glucose then circulates though the body in the blood, where it is used by the cells as fuel.  The pancreas, a gland surrounded by the liver, intestines and other organs produces a hormone called insulin which helps move the glucose into the cells.  In a healthy person, the pancreas will adjust the amount of insulin in the body based on the level of glucose.  But in a person who has diabetes, this natural body process breaks down, and the person’s blood sugar level goes too high.

Type I and Type 2

The two main types of diabetes are identified as Type I diabetes, wherein the person’s body is completely unable to produce insulin.  While a person with Type 2 diabetes can produce insulin, their body cells do not respond to it.  In both Type I and Type 2 diabetes, the glucose cannot move into the cells as it should, and as a result, the glucose levels in the blood become too high.

A person with Type 1 needs frequent injections of insulin, because their pancreas produces very little–or no insulin. This type of diabetes often occurs before age 30, and its origins are not yet fully understood.

A person suffering from Type 2 does have adequate insulin, but their body cells have become resistant to it.  According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), Type 2 diabetes accounts for 95 percent of all diabetes, due to the fact it is a lifestyle disease triggered by increased age, lack of exercise, and obesity.

November is American Diabetes Month, and is sponsored by the American Diabetes Association.  According to HealthFinder.gov, the disease is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States.  Furthermore, when diabetes is not controlled, it can cause nerve damage, kidney disease and blindness; as well as other health problems.

Despite the fact that upwards of 25 million Americans have diabetes, and another 79 million American adults are at a high risk of developing Type 2, HealthFinder.gov cites the fact that those  at-risk individuals can lower their risk by more than 50% by making healthy changes in their lives which include eating healthy, increasing their physical activity, and losing weight.

In support of American Diabetes Month, HealthFinder.gov is providing a Toolkit of information and resources which help others to get involved, and spread the word about diabetes prevention.

The Connection to Drug Addiction

Drug and alcohol use does have a connection to diabetes, influencing and impacting it in a number of ways, depending on the substance and its degree of use and abuse.


Because alcohol impairs judgment, it can affect the person’s resolve to maintain the necessary tight control which diabetes requires.

Alcohol promotes hypoglycemia—low blood sugar–a medical emergency involving an abnormally diminished glucose content in the blood. Just one alcoholic drink consumed on an empty stomach can send a person’s blood glucose level plummeting; increasing the risk of sudden hypoglycemia.  The risk caused by low blood glucose can last for hours after the alcohol was consumed, especially if no or little food was consumed.

Furthermore, the needed treatment for hypoglycemia could be delayed because inebriation and low blood sugar appear deceptively similar.

Tobacco Smoking

Smoking tobacco has been shown to significantly influence both intravenous and oral glucose tolerance tests.  It can decrease the body’s ability to absorb insulin, exacerbate nerve disease, increase the risk of high blood pressure, and increase the risk of limb amputation,with smokers accounting for approximately 95 percent of diabetic limb amputations.


Some marijuana users report that smoking the drug lowers their blood glucose level by 40 points, which can lead to hypoglycemia.  It causes problems with concentration, memory, coordinated movement, sensory and time perception and problem solving—all of which can affect the person’s control of their diabetes-related issues.

Marijuana also increases appetite, which can lead to overeating and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).  Heavy use of the drug can impair the user’s glucose tolerance, causing hyperglycemia.


These drugs can increase the user’s blood glucose as well as change the person’s eating habits.  These drugs are also capable of causing high blood glucose due to the increased liver breakdown of glycogen—the main way a person’s body stores glucose to be used later.  Use also alters the user’s perceptions which can adversely affect their ability to manage diabetes.

Heroin and Opiates

Use of these drugs can change the person’s eating habits, thus affecting the blood glucose.  Furthermore, the use of heroin and opiates alters the user’s perceptions, affecting their ability to manage diabetes.

Hard Facts

Stuart Brink, an endocrinologist (a specially trained doctor who diagnoses diseases related to the glands), notes that a drug addict with diabetes differs from a recreational drug user who remains capable of testing their blood glucose level and managing their diabetes.  He further points out that “hard drug addicts are much different” than those users who occasionally get stoned or who are just experimenting with drugs.

Brink says that when a person is an addict, taking care of their diabetes is so far down their priority list that “the next hit is life or death”, and the chronic complications of diabetes “don’t hit for another twenty years.”

Diabetes is yet another reason to get—and stay—sober.