Are Diabetics More Likely To Die From Alcoholism?

By Maggie Ethridge 10/22/18

Alcohol-related deaths, specifically cirrhosis of the liver, were as much as 10 times higher for those with diabetes, according to a new study.

Doctor checking diabetic patient`s blood sugar level.

A Finnish study concluded that diabetes sufferers are at significantly higher risk than the non-diabetic population of death from alcohol-related issues or suicide, due to the strain on their mental health while managing the disease.

However, once the numbers of the study are parsed, it’s clear that the risk in the diabetic community is relatively small overall.

Studies have already proven that diabetes—especially diabetes that is not well-controlled—puts a person at higher risk for various serious health issues such as certain cancers and heart disease.

However, the new Finnish research, published in the European Journal of Endocrinology, shows that because of the strain of managing diabetes, those with the disease are at higher risk of psychological issues and resulting death.

Specifically, The Independent reported that the study showed that alcohol-related deaths, particularly caused by cirrhosis of the liver, were as much as 10 times higher in the diabetic community versus those without the disease. Death by suicide was increased by a staggering 110%. The more severe the disease (requiring more insulin injections and medical interventions) the bigger the risk of death.

The lead researcher on the study, Professor Leo Niskanen of the University of Helsinki, said, “We know that living with diabetes can lead to a mental health strain.”

A diagnosis of diabetes is either Type 1 or Type 2. Both variations disrupt the way your body regulates blood sugar, also known as glucose. Insulin allows glucose to enter the body’s cells. In Type 1 diabetes, the body is not producing insulin, while in Type 2, the cells are not responding as well as they should be to insulin.

During the timeframe of the Finnish study, there were 2,832 deaths related to alcohol and 853 deaths by suicide. Patients taking insulin saw a 6.9% increase in deaths from alcohol-related conditions for diabetic men, and 10.6 times higher for women. Patients taking oral medication—who were able to control their condition with diet and exercise—saw an increased risk of death but at a much lower percentile.

Professor Niskanen says, “The low absolute suicidal rates make the risk ratios look very high—even small increase in risk may thus have higher risk ratios… However, they are highly [statistically] significant anyway. This study has highlighted that there is a need for effective psychological support for people with diabetes. If [diabetes patients] feel like they are under a heavy mental burden or consider that their use of alcohol is excessive, they should not hesitate to discuss these issues with their primary care physician.”

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.