The issues that endanger all teens are doubly dangerous to teens with diabetes. For this reason, parents often begin educating their children about these issues at a younger age than most. It's never too early to begin laying the groundwork for your teen to understand their risks and the ramifications of dangerous behavior as compared to children without diabetes.
The Physiology of Drinking
It's a fact: Drinking alcohol lowers your blood sugar. No matter how “in control” your child's diabetes may be, it might only take one night of drinking to send her on an ambulance ride, or worse. Talking to your child frankly and honestly about drinking is a must, as uncomfortable as it may be for both of you.
Although you'd really like to just say “don't drink!” that's not dealing with reality. The better option is to tell your child that you do not allow or condone underage drinking, but that you'd rather he understands the way to do it than to do it wrong if he is going to sneak in a drinking night.
Alcohol is not a never-in-your-life thing for diabetes. The American Diabetes Association says that used in moderation (no more than two drinks a day for an adult) and with food, alcohol is fine for adults with diabetes. Tell your child the time will come.
You'll want to share this information with your child, while stressing that their best option is no alcohol at all.
So how do you walk the line of urging a child not to drink but sharing with them best practices if they do drink? As always, involve the experts. Have your endocrinologist or Certified Diabetes Educator talk with her about alcohol and back it up with a talk (or ten or twenty) of your own. Drive home the fact that drinking alcohol with diabetes is tricky; it takes planning, counting, and attention. Ironically, alcohol can rob a person (particularly a teen) of the ability to do all three of those things. Tell your child that eating carbs along with drinking is a good idea, as is testing blood sugars every hour.
Alcohol's Long-Term Effects
Be honest about the long-term effects of alcohol on people with diabetes. If diabetes is not well-controlled, long-term drinking can increase the chances of complications such as eye damage. A hangover, complete with vomiting, can throw off insulin absorption enough to require a trip to the emergency room. That's not a fun short-term effect.
You may also want to consider allowing your child to call his endocrinologist if he gets into a bad situation with alcohol. If the endocrinologist on call can help him get out of a potentially dangerous situation, it's better than the alternative. But do stress to your teen: If he calls you because of a bad alcohol situation, you will not yell at him or ground him. There will be consequences of some kind, but the alternative is much worse. Create a plan where he can reach out for help before it's too late.