Sometimes people with hypoglycemia or “low blood sugar” are mistaken for drunks. This is because their reaction to sugar and alcohol can be very similar. The high sugar content of some alcoholic drinks alone can some people’s blood sugar to drop so fast that they appear intoxicated. This is because over consumption of sugar causes the pancreas to release insulin into the blood stream.

Because insulin has a much longer half-life (the time of a substance to reduce itself by half) than sugar, the insulin will remain longer in the blood than the sugar. This is why many people feel groggy or “dinner drunk” after a few drinks, a sweet snack or highly processed carbohydrate meal (like a milk shake and French fries). Usually they do not feel very hungry and reach for another drink for a temporary energy boost. They might even think that their “low fat” intake is doing them a favor. Hardly. The excess sugar gets stored away in the form of body fat. (But that is another article.)

As alcohol provides a short sugar lift for some people, there is a tendency to drink alcoholic drinks to feel better. The relief is short-lived. In my early twenties, I used to go for a couple of brew after kick-boxing practice. This was not the best idea. Even though it felt good and made for good conversation, the carbohydrates and electrolytes were pretty low in the beers. It also just made me more tired the next day.

None-the-less, some endurance athletes will have a couple of beer the day before a race. One theory is that the athlete is carbo-loading in preparation for the race. However, an old marathoner once told me that the bars are packed before a marathon, with marathon runners having a couple of beer to calm down. Many endurance athletes tend to be hyperactive, high-strung people, who find that they need a beer or two to calm down.

Even on a hot day, a “barley sandwich” can take the edge off of the heat and have a calming effect. Some people just get plain groggy and call it relaxing. To counter this low-blood sugar effect, it is important to eat something while drinking. That and some good company can accent the relaxing effect of alcohol. People get into trouble when they give the alcohol all of the credit for making themselves feel better. Remember: If you are going to drink alcohol, EAT!

Hypoglycemia is often masked by several symptoms: The symptoms can vary depending on how low the blood sugar level drops.

Mild hypoglycemia can cause nauseas, nervous feelings, cold and clammy skin, sweating, hunger and rapid heartbeat. (I have felt this after instructing 3 fitness classes and without eating for over 5 hours. It was no fun at all.)

Moderate hypoglycemia often makes you feel irritable, anxious, or confused. You may have blurred vision, feel unsteady, and have difficulty walking.

Severe hypoglycemia can lead to loss of consciousness, seizures, and coma-and it may be fatal.

This is why people with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) are often misjudged as just being drunk.

For more information see Reduce Your Alcohol Craving