Sex, Alcohol, and Diabetes: New Program Aims To Help Students With Diabetes Transition To College Life

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Every time summer fades into fall we start to see the signs of students going back to school: backpacks are on sale, bedtimes are being reestablished, and yellow school buses start roaming the neighborhoods.

For many students, the new school year means going off to college and living on their own for the first time. For those students with diabetes, leaving for college means they’ll be managing diabetes on their own for the first time, too. A mistake in management could cost them more than their diploma.

Young people with diabetes are often used to relying on a parent for help managing their condition. They may have never spoken to a doctor without a parent present. In addition to all the social, emotional, and academic challenges these college students will face, these students will begin walking the tightrope between high and low blood sugar without parental oversight. A new education program from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital is designed to help them stay balanced.

Baylor’s Young Adults Diabetes Program is designed for young people ages 17 to 26 with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who are managing their condition for the first time on their own. Young patients will meet with a physician and diabetes educator without the presence of a parent and be free to ask whatever questions they’d like. The program hopes to bridge the gap between pediatric and adult care so students can transition successfully.

The program will directly address diabetes concerns both practical and sensitive. A student’s practical concerns may include understanding their health insurance, filling prescriptions on their own, and making medical appointments. These things seem like no-brainers for those who’ve done them a million times, but they can be hard to navigate at first, especially with the added challenges of diabetes.

And there are the more awkward topics—topics that students may not have felt comfortable talking about in front of their parents, even if they did get a chance.

The program will educate students about how alcohol can affect blood sugar and what to watch out for. Alcohol can at first raise blood sugar but then cause it to drop dangerously, and the signs of low blood sugar mimic those of intoxication, so it’s important that students be aware and have a plan to stay safe.

Dr. Siripoom Mckay, of Baylor’s program, encourages students with diabetes that plan to use alcohol to eat some food first and have a trusted friend around to watch for signs of low blood sugar.

In addition, questions about sex, pregnancy, alcohol that students may be hesitant to ask will be addressed head-on, because these things could lead students with diabetes into dangerous situations. Pregnancy with diabetes increases the risk of birth defects without proper precautions, and it’s important that students plan accordingly.

As much as young students usually look forward to their freedom, managing diabetes for the first time without the vigilance of a parent can be both freeing and terrifying. Baylor’s program aims to make the prospect less scary so that students aren’t intimidated by disease management, or worse, tempted to ignore it all together.

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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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