If You Like to Party and Have Type 1 Diabetes
This content is a part of Beyond Type 1’s Alcohol and Diabetes Guide. Read more resources and stories about drinking with type 1 or type 2 diabetes here. There are a lot of complications and issues that you have to look out for when drinking with diabetes, so make sure to stay informed and stay healthy!
At 2:30 a.m., I munch on burnt IHOP bacon and steal a bite of my sister’s pancakes. My feet ache. We danced for three hours. Around me, brigades of eye-lined women and tailor-suited men are bursting with energy, bright and alive.
With a smile, I wonder: What would my endocrinologist think?
People in and out of the diabetes community have been surprised to learn that I party and I have type 1 diabetes. In medical circles, a person with type 1 (T1) is considered “sick” on some level and sick people should not drink alcohol or have “too much” fun. Right?
I’ve stayed up until dawn at clubs in Berlin and Amsterdam. I’ve ordered a Bloody Mary at a Las Vegas poolside bar at 10 a.m. I’ve shared a cold beer with my dad in a Tennessee field in the blazing summer heat at Bonnaroo. I’ve done shots and keg stands and won beer pong tournaments.
I’m not glamorizing dangerous partying. If it’s not your thing, that’s cool and I salute you.
I took the “we can do anything” mentality and applied it to all of my adventures, not just my backpacking and skydiving pursuits. I can hike in the snowy Andes Mountains with T1. So who’s to say I can’t join a late-night party on the night before the hike too?
I can live my life however I want. I take pleasure in living life this way; squeezing out every last drop of energy and beauty in the time I’m given. Doing so is my way of rubbing my disease’s nose in LIFE. As if to say, Here’s what you get for trying to kill me!
I’ll admit I have partied safely and not-so-safely with T1. That great night I had in Berlin? When I got back to my hostel at 6 a.m., my insulin pump failed and I had no back-up long-acting insulin. I panicked, cried, missed my flight and ended up injecting Novolog every three hours.
Things can go terribly wrong. But constantly living in fear of things going wrong is not the way I choose to live.
So if you do decide to party, you need to follow some rules—
- My most important one: Keep your wits about you.
- That means not blacking out
- That means going easy at the pre-game
- It means not drinking as much as your friends (trust me you’ll feel better in the morning).
- This also means, for me, no mind-altering drugs.
- Pacing yourself
- Not drinking to get drunk
In college, I saw how stupid people looked when they blacked out. I didn’t see in that any semblance of a good time so I vowed to always follow my most important rule. If you’re feeling good, then no, you do not need another Jameson shot. And if the room is spinning, you need to stop and go home because you won’t impress anyone when you vomit in the sink.
“Keeping your wits” means that, no matter what, you don’t go so far as to forget you have diabetes and you inject a drug that can kill you. Because it has killed teens and adults with type 1 who mixed alcohol or drugs, or both, with insulin.
These are some must-dos
- Check your blood sugar.
- Take insulin or glucose (as needed).
- Have a safety plan.
My safety plan is educating the people around me as well as wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). My boyfriend knows where to find my Glucagon kit*. And wearing a CGM allows me to see what is going on inside my body and to modify my behavior. If I’m on the dance floor and I notice my blood sugar creeping up, I can pause to grab a glass of water from the bartender, for example.
*Editor’s Note: Nasal Glucagon BAQSIMI was approved by the FDA and is now available in the United States, as of August 2019, and much more user-friendly than the old kit.
Some people—doctors, diabetes educators, parents—may not like what I have to say. Or accuse me of advocating unhealthiness or minimizing the risk of overdose and addiction. But I’m only sharing with you my reality at age 26. Lessons learned from 11 years of T1, through high school, college and post-college. I’m also asking not to be judged for the way I choose to live. For instance, I loved hiking the Grand Canyon and enjoying a beer afterward in the purple sunset. But I know my lifestyle is not for everyone.
So far I have lived a rich and textured life, full of missteps and mistakes, but still in good health. My last hemoglobin A1c was 6.6, at least. Perhaps life is a bit like an endless party, for me. My purpose being to stop diabetes from crashing it.
Return to Beyond Type 1’s Alcohol and Diabetes Guide. The resources in this guide will help you make the right, healthy choices when drinking.