Alcohol and Drugs Deaths on the Rise for Type I Diabetics

While studies have shown that moderate drinking may be good for your health, it can cause severe problems in diabetics, and researchers have warned that diabetic deaths related to alcohol are on the rise.  While the good news is that younger people with type 1 diabetes are living longer, deaths from drink and drug abuse in this group are soaring, with drink and drugs accounting for well over a third of deaths in type 1 diabetics, says a new study just published on the British Medical Journal’s website.

There are three types of diabetes.  Type 1, which is non-preventable and typically occurs in young people under 20, is due to an autoimmune response which attacks the beta cells in the pancreas, those which produce the hormone insulin.  Type 2 occurs later in life, typically in overweight or obese people who may be genetically predisposed to the disease because of their racial background.  Pregnancy diabetes occurs in expectant moms, and symptoms usually die down shortly after the birth.

Diabetes, whether types 1 or 2, may cause a number of complications which can be fatal, including sugar coma, heart disease, strokes and renal failure, despite advances in understanding diabetes and care.


The study looked at mortality causes and rates in type 1 diabetics, both those who developed the disease very early in life, between the ages of birth and 14 years, and those who developed it later, between 15 and 29.  The Finnish researchers looked at long and short term statistics relating to 17,306 type 1 diabetics aged not more than 30 over 30 years between 1970 and 1999.  The study took in the causes and ages of death overtime and noted follow-ups for 21 years after diagnosis.  They noted in the report that few studies have compared mortality rates of earlier or later onset of type 1 diabetics.

They found that people who developed diabetes earlier in their childhood had a better survival rate than those who developed it at or after 15, whose survival rates have declined since the 1980s.

The scientists found diabetics who were diagnosed earlier in their childhood had improved survival statistics between 1970 and 2007, while those who were diagnosed later in their youth had increased mortality.  The main reason was drug and alcohol abuse, in 39% of cases.

Alcohol abuse is very dangerous for diabetics of all types, as it can severely alter blood sugar rates as alcohol is metabolized during digestion and because of its high caloric content.  Even for healthy people heavy drinking can greatly increase the risk of getting diabetes, because it can cause weight gain and because diabetes is a known side effect of chronic pancreatitis caused by alcohol abuse.  Studies have shown moderate drinking may decrease the risk of diabetes, and even diabetics may be advised by their doctors that moderate drinking is safe if they keep within Government guidelines of no more than three units per day for a woman and four for a man.

The study found that the importance of good patient-doctor relationships, care and guidance “in our alcohol-permissive cultures” were underlined by these figures.

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