How Alcohol Abuse Affects The Eyes and Vision
One of the most common side effects of alcohol intoxication is blurred vision. However, this is only one example of how alcohol abuse affects the eyes. Drinking can have many short and long term effects on the eyes and vision. For example, bloodshot eyes and alcohol abuse or yellowing of the eyes from chronic alcoholism are two additional ways the eyes are affected.
Alcohol abuse and addiction impact virtually every organ and system in the human body. Many people are well aware of the long-term effects of alcohol on the liver or brain, but the eyes are a vital organ that people rely on each and every day and they, too, are impacted by alcohol abuse. Let’s take a look at the various ways in which excessive alcohol consumption affects the eyes and vision.
Short Term Effects of Alcohol on Eyesight
When a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) begins to rise, they begin experiencing the effects of intoxication. These include slurred speech, impaired coordination, and more. There are many ways in which binge drinking and drinking in excess affects vision. Here are the most common ways in which short term alcohol abuse affects the eyes.
Dry Eyes, Bloodshot Eyes, and Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol is a diuretic substance so it increases the output of urine leading to dehydration. When people are dehydrated, they often experience irritated, dry eyes. Alcohol also reduces the flow of oxygen to red blood cells, leading blood vessels to clump together and cause red or bloodshot eyes. Someone who wakes up from a hangover may have red eyes for a day, while someone who is a heavy drinker may have chronically bloodshot eyes due to swelling in the eye’s blood vessels.
Blurry Vision or Double Vision
Alcohol is a depressant which means it slows down the central nervous system and makes people feel relaxed. When intoxicated, alcohol also slows down the rate at which neurotransmitters operate in the brain. As a result, information is not passed between the eyes and the brain as quickly as it usually is when a person is sober. This delayed response leads to slowed eye-muscle coordination, causing people who are under the influence of alcohol to experience blurry vision or double vision.
Eye Twitching (Myokymia) and Nystagmus
Have you ever wondered why the police make you follow their finger or a pen when conducting a field sobriety test? Well, it’s because when a person is intoxicated, alcohol stimulates the eye muscles causing the eyelid to twitch, a condition known as myokymia. Alcohol can also cause nystagmus, a condition characterized by involuntary jerking of the eyeballs when moving horizontally or vertically. Cops are looking for these signs during a field sobriety test because they know that myokymia and nystagmus are two of the many ways in which alcohol affects the eyes.
As alcohol slows the central nervous system, it also reduces the reactions of the pupils. As a result, pupils are unable to dilate and constrict adequately to adjust to the light surrounding them. This directly affects the way the eyes detect contrast between different shades and colors. Essentially, excessive alcohol consumption can affect vision by reducing one’s ability to see colors while intoxicated.
Long Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse on the Eyes
While the short-term effects of alcohol abuse on eyesight wear off once a person sobers up, chronic alcohol abuse or alcoholism can lead to damaging and permanent effects on the eyes and vision. Here are the most common ways in which lone term alcohol abuse affects the eyes.
Alcoholism and Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Excessive alcohol abuse over an extended period of time can cause damage to the retina which can result in loss of vision in the center of the eye. Sustained damage to both the retina and the macula can lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a condition that causes the central part of the field of vision to become impaired and blurred. People who suffer from AMD may struggle to see straight ahead while driving or reading.
AMD may develop slowly in some people while it develops rapidly in others. It can appear as blank spots in the field of vision or areas that aren’t as bright as others. People with AMD may also begin seeing straight lines as wavy ones. Fortunately, AMD does not cause pain or lead to complete blindness.
Cataracts Caused by Long Term Alcohol Abuse
A cataract is an area on the lens of the eye that appears cloudy and may interfere with normal vision. Typically, cataracts are most common in the older population, however, they can develop at any age and are more likely to develop early in alcoholics. People who have cataracts may have blurred vision, be more sensitive to light, have difficulty seeing at night, and see colors in lesser intensity.
Heavy Drinking, Vitamin Deficiency, and Eyesight
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency is common among heavy drinkers and alcoholics because alcohol abuse inhibits the absorption of vitamins in the liver. Vitamin B1 is essential for many bodily functions, including eyesight. As a result, vitamin B1 deficiency can lead to weakness or paralysis of the eye muscles. On the other hand, alcoholism is also linked to vitamin A deficiency, a condition that can cause thinning of the cornea, night blindness, dryness, corneal perforation, and even retinal damage that leads to blindness.
Get Help for Alcohol Addiction Today
The long term effects of alcohol on the eyes and vision can be permanent if not caught and treated in their early stages. Most importantly, the best thing you can do to prevent alcohol abuse from affecting your eyesight is to stop drinking completely.
If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, it’s time to get help. Pick up the phone and contact one of our dedicated treatment providers today to get started with an alcohol rehabilitation program.
Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.