Researchers uncover rising prevalence of alcohol-related deaths among type 1 diabetics

Individuals with type 1 diabetes are commonly advised to avoid drinking alcohol, as this may interfere with their blood sugar management. Yet, a new study indicates that many individuals with the condition may be ignoring this advice.

A group of Finnish researchers found that alcohol now plays a significant role in a major portion of diabetes deaths. To make matters worse, the numbers only appear to be increasing.

The team analyzed the health records of more than 17,000 individuals under the age of 30 who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes between 1970 and 1999. They then tracked the health of these participants for an average of 21 years.

The researchers reported in the British Medical Journal that alcohol-related deaths began increasing among diabetics rising in the 1980s. Among individuals who were diagnosed with the condition between the ages of 15 and 29, alcohol and other drugs accounted for 39 percent of all deaths that occurred among individuals who died during their first 20 years of having the condition.

Conversely, among those who were diagnosed with the condition before their 15th birthday, life expectancy improved thanks largely to a reduction in the number of individuals who suffered from complications related to their condition.

These improvements depict the overall gains that have been made in the treatment of type 1 diabetes. However, the researchers pointed out that these gains were largely overshadowed by the rising number of alcohol-related deaths during this same time period.

Individuals who have a late onset of type 1 diabetes are thought to have better survival rates than those with early onsets. When disease-related factors are solely considered, this may be true. But the findings suggest that lifestyle choices may also play an important role in determining an individual’s life expectancy.

Regardless, the team wrote in their report that their findings underscore the importance of proper disease management. When a person with type 1 diabetes tests their blood sugar on a regular basis and makes sure to avoid things that can disrupt glucose levels, like alcohol, the condition can be very survivable. Doctors should focus on this when counseling their patients.

"This highlights the importance of permanent and long lasting doctor-patient relationships, close supervision and guidance on the short term and long term effects of alcohol in young people with type 1 diabetes, especially in our alcohol-permissive cultures," the researchers wrote in their report.