Real Life: Scott Johnson Says It’s Complicated

DWD_HS_ScottJohnsonScott Johnson is a native Minnesotan. He was born into a working class family in April of 1975. His mother was a nurse for 30 years and his father a painter. In April of 1980, at the age of 5, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Like most type 1 diabetics, Scott has struggled with diabetes and the lack of support and resources for this disease. As a means to find support and connect with those in similar situations, Scott created his own website,, to chronicle his daily struggles.

Drinking with diabetes? Sheesh – that’s a complicated one. At least I think it is.

I have to admit I don’t know much about it. It scares me.

Maybe scared isn’t the right word for it. Intimidated sounds more accurate. I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of learning how to drink with my diabetes.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was five. By the time high school parties (and alcohol) rolled around I had a decade of diabetes lessons under my belt. In all honesty though, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Diabetes is rough on its own. Being a teenager is rough on its own. Together they make for some rough times. Maybe that’s what turns some people towards alcohol in the first place.

So why didn’t the idea of drinking appeal to me? I don’t remember specifically learning that alcohol can make blood sugar management tricky, though I must have heard it somewhere. Maybe I was just afraid of getting drunk and losing control. Maybe I’d seen friends when they were drunk and didn’t like what I saw. Maybe it’s from growing up during the “Just Say No!” advertising campaigns of the 80′s & 90′s

I did know drinking made diabetes a little more complicated, and I was already having a tough enough time. I opted to not make managing blood sugars any harder than it already was. I would often use my diabetes to get me out of uncomfortable peer-pressure situations. I would literally say “I don’t know what that will do to my diabetes” when someone was pushing me to drink.

Eventually saying “I don’t drink” held some sort of power. It set me apart from the people making fools of themselves getting sloshed and acting ridiculous. There was only one person who gave me a hard time, and he was an asshole anyway so it didn’t bother me.

Does it still stand today? Mostly. I do drink a glass or two of red wine, usually only on special occasions or when I travel. Even that little bit makes me cautious with my blood sugars hours and hours later. But I’ve never had hard liquor or mixed drinks, and I’m fine with that. I still don’t like the idea of losing control of myself. Lows do enough to cripple my brain, I don’t want alcohol in the mix too.

When making the decision to drink or not, you are going to do what feels right for you. If that decision is to drink, you need to know how to do it safely.

Diabetes is a dangerous thing to misunderstand, and it can be fatal to underestimate its power. One mistake with alcohol and diabetes could end your life. I know it sounds overly dramatic, but I’m very serious.

You need to be careful out there.


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  • tmana

    Scott’s observations are similar to mine, growing up. From the time I was 13, I have been to very few parties where alcohol was NOT served… to teenagers… with or without their parents’ knowledge or consent.
    Diabetes didn’t enter my personal life until my 40′s (and even there, it’s type 2). My father laid some ground rules: he wanted to know IF I drank, WHAT I drank, and HOW MUCH I drank at these parties. He also made a time at which to pick me up (these were in the days before cell phones), and when he came, I had to go — or, I had to wait for him to come (or ask the host if I could use the phone to call him to come get me). The only time I consume more than a glass of something relatively mild (wine, cider, dark ale) or a less-frequent Cognac or Armagnac, is at the Passover seder.

  • I got type one when I was 28. I’ve never been a big drinker but I was used to having a glass or two of red wine with dinner. I was worried at first (mixing alcohol and diabetes) and I was super vigilant but I haven’t had any blood sugar issues. I make sure to have dinner or a snack with alcohol and I make sure to enjoy and appreciate. It’s not the quantity – it’s the quality.

  • MomofType1

    Scott, thank you for writing this. It is my hope that people will think about your article before drinking. I am not against alcohol by any means. I agree, with or without diabetes it must be done responsibly. I enjoy a great glass of wine myself. (I do not have diabetes). I am hoping others including those with teens will talk to them about drinking alcohol. Teens will drink, and with diabetes, the key is education. I am all for that. Sadly, my nephew at 17, chose not to pay attention to his type 1 diabetes, and he passed away the next morning. So, they key is education and moderation. RIP Donald Attwater. I miss him every day!

  • Barry Roberts

    I understand. This August I lost a son to a diabetic. My son was a twin and both decided to go to a movie after they got off work. They were at a red light waiting to turn after the light changed. My sons where honor grads both in high school and in college. They also played sports line backers in high school and many other sports. Both boys 6 ft 1. 180 in weight. Two blocks from our house they were hit by a 67 year old person doing 85 in a 45 and no brakes were used. He had a reaction to his diabetes. He had 0.4% (beer) in his blood test.This of course was after they pumped what ever they needed into to him to keep him alive. I believe his level was altered because of that. Court is done. He got 10 months in the Holiday inn (county) 5 years probation.He had a 4 hour gap from the time he left his house till he killed my son. He said he had no understanding what happened in those hours.My other son was also hurt but by the grace of God he will be good in time.In Michigan they have no specific laws for diabetic drivers in regards to drinking and driving. I feel that diabetics need screening to be able to have a license to drive. 15 states have laws regarding diabetics who drive. Michigan will be next. Please when you have a chance look up my son. Ryan James Roberts.He was one hell of of son. Thank you.

    • Bennet Dunlap

      Hi Barry.

      I am sure I would have liked to have known Ryan. As a dad I can only imagine your sense of loss. I am touched by your efforts to take positive to keep the roads safe in his honor.

      You speak to a very important issue, the very real risk of driving while intoxicated. We absolutely agree that is a very serious issue. In part that is why we posted the Drinking 101 info-graphic. It is intended as a resource for all those who choose to drink and then should not drive.

      We did an internet radio show about the site and the host said she hoped the site would be a resource beyond families with diabetes to encourage conversations about safe behaviors around alcohol. I was touched by that and I agree. Drinking and driving is a national tragedy. One that no father should experience the way you have.

      I did, as you suggested, Google Ryan. As is often the case with reporting around diabetes the coverage is less than clear how the drivers diabetes may have compounded his drunk driving. Certainly that in no way diminishes your loss.

      The premiss of our site is to facilitate an understanding of how alcohol and insulin interact. Our aim is to facilitate education that can help students learn to be responsible with alcohol. Certainly not driving under the influence is a significant part of being responsible.

      This is why our student parent agreements specifically addresses driving and pledges students not to drive intoxicated and parents to provide safe sober transportation.

      I hope that we can contribute to safe sober highways so that tragedies the loss of your son Ryan on our nations road stop.


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About is a resource for young adult Type 1 diabetics and their support networks to help navigate interactions around alcohol. Alcohol is often an integral part of social life on college campuses and while all students face risks, there are a number of unique and serious ones specific to insulin-using diabetics. Learning how to navigate those risks and make informed decisions for themselves about the role alcohol plays in their lives.

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