The Effect Of Alcohol On Your Eyesight

The many side effects of alcohol consumption are well documented, but perhaps less so is the impact it can have on your eye health.

It’s not uncommon to experience dry, itchy and bloodshot eyes following a night of drinking, and alcohol has been known to compromise eyesight at the time of consumption, causing individuals under the influence to experience distorted and blurred vision. But does the extent of the damage stop there? Or does alcohol in fact cause long-lasting, permanent issues to your eyesight?

Regular drinking over the long-term, along with short-term binge drinking sessions, can increase the chances of permanent vision damage. There are a number of short-term issues that can arise, including blurriness and double vision that can be commonly experienced during a night out drinking, but longer-lasting, more serious issues can also potentially arise.



Short-Term Impacts

Alcohol is a depressant, and this means it slows the pace of communication between neurotransmitters in the brain and the central nervous system.

When this transmission is impaired, the brain is not able to send messages to the eye to coordinate the use of muscles, which can cause the “double vision” that many people experience after consuming too much alcohol. Another common side effect of alcohol consumption is a lack of depth perception; as the substance weakens the eye muscles that are responsible for controlling your eye movements, it becomes difficult for both eyes to focus on the same object at once, impairing your ability to gauge both depth and distance. You may also encounter difficulty sharpening your focus, known as decreased visual acuity, along with issues pertaining to your peripheral vision.

You may experience a twitching in one or both eyes following alcohol consumption, which is known as Myokymia. Studies have shown that just a small amount of alcohol is enough to trigger and exacerbate symptoms of twitching and “dry eye”. After drinking, you may find it difficult to discern different shades of black and grey, and make distinctions between different shades of light and dark. This is known as decreased contrast sensitivity, and while it is only a short-term issue, it can potentially be an incredibly hazardous one in certain situations, such as if you are trying to make your way home in the dark, for example. A study conducted by Western University in Ontario, Canada, revealed that alcohol impairs the eye’s ability to effectively adjust vision for brightness and contrast by 30 per cent when the blood alcohol level is at the legal driving limit (0.08, or more than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood).

Eye dryness and twitching, along with an inability to judge perception and light and darkness effectively are all short-term, temporary side effects of alcohol consumption – however, there are a number of long-term and even some permanent issues that can arise as well.


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Long-Term Impacts

Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to a number of longer lasting issues pertaining to your eye health and vision.

The ocular surface is the surface of the cornea, the thin transparent layer over the front of the eye. Alcohol consumption has been shown to cause diseases and disorders that affect this surface, as confirmed by a recent study carried out by the Hallym University College of Medicine. In the survey, it was revealed that alcohol could cause tear hyperosmolarity, a key feature of dry eye.

A number of studies have also confirmed individuals with a higher rate of alcohol consumption over the long-term experienced increased cataract formation, along with a heightened risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). As heavy drinking negatively affects the liver’s ability to absorb vitamins, many people experienced weakened vision due to vitamin deficiency. A lack of vitamin B-1, for example, can cause the eye muscles to weaken, while a lack of vitamin A can cause anything from corneal perforation to dry eye and even permanent retinal damage.

Those who have been drinking alcohol for many years may experience permanent cosmetic changes to their eyes as well. As alcohol dilates the veins in the eye, this causes them to become more prominent, and the white around the pupil (the sclera) can take on a reddish appearance as a result. Long-term alcohol abuse also affects the liver, and which can cause the yellowing of both skin and the whites of your eyes.

In addition to cosmetic changes and damage to eye health, alcohol abuse can damage the visual health of unborn children if you are pregnant. Alcohol consumed in excess can lead to eye issues associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), such as when the optic nerve fails to develop correctly, or eyelids droop due to the muscles having been weakened and not formed correctly.

In a worst-case scenario, irreparable damage to the eyes can occur following alcohol abuse. Toxic amblyopia refers to permanent loss of vision as a result of drug or toxin abuse, and so can often be found to affect alcoholics. This vision loss occurs over time and is normally partial, and if you are found to be suffering from it, it will be recommended that you abstain from alcohol immediately to lessen the impact.


NB Since the tool was created the he government’s alcohol guidelines have changed. It is now advised that both men and women consume no more than 14 units a week. This is six pints of 4% beer or six 175ml glasses of 13% wine. By limiting your alcohol intake, you can take better care of your eyes and enjoy better visual acuity in the long run.

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