Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol harms every organ in the human body, including the eyes. Although many people are aware of the damage excessive drinking or addiction has on some bodily organs, few are aware of the damaging effects it can have on vision. It can even lead to blindness.
What Are Alcoholic Eyes?
“Alcoholic eyes” refers to the effects that excessive or long-term alcohol consumption has on the appearance of the eyes. They may appear:
- Bloodshot or reddish, which is caused by swollen ocular blood vessels
- Yellowish, which may indicate liver disease
- Swollen or puffy
- Baggy, when the skin under the eyes becomes weak and flabby
- Irritated, dry, and itchy
Excessive Drinking & Altered Visual Performance
1 – Eye Muscle Damage: Excessive alcohol consumption affects the way the brain’s neurotransmitters work, causing the communication between the brain and the eyes to slow. The slowed communication weakens the eye muscle coordination, resulting in distorted, blurry, or double vision. The weakened eye muscles can permanently affect the eyes, leading to damage of the optic nerves. Another effect of weakened eye muscles is that the eyes move involuntarily in a rapid back-and-forth motion.
2 – Slower Pupil Reaction Time: Drinking alcohol affects a person’s reaction time, causing them to have slower reflexes. In the eyes, the speed of the iris as it dilates or constricts is much slower. With the slowed pupil reaction time, a driver cannot quickly adapt to the headlights of an oncoming vehicle.
3 – Decreased Sensitivity to Shade or Color Contrasts: Another effect of slowed pupil reaction is an increased difficulty distinguishing different objects based on darkness or lightness. A study from Western University in Ontario, Canada, shows that the eye’s ability to adjust vision for contrast and brightness is reduced by 30 percent when the person’s blood-alcohol level is approximately the legal driving limit. Alcohol also impairs an individual’s ability to adjust to lighting differences and see different shades of color.
4 – Eye twitching: Myokymia is the medical name for eye twitching. However, it is actually eyelid twitching. Excessive alcohol consumption can trigger this condition. An eyelid twitch can last for several days, making it difficult to focus.
Frequent Debilitating Migraines
Drinking alcohol is often a trigger for severe migraine headaches. Before the headache starts, many people experience a debilitating visual aura. It may appear as graying of vision, zig-zag patterns of light, or blind spots. Alcohol makes a person’s eyes very sensitive to light. Sometimes that is the cause of migraines.
Excessive Drinking & Increased Cataract Formation
Studies show that people who consume an excessive amount of alcohol have a higher risk of cataracts forming. Cataracts result when the eye’s lens becomes cloudy. Many people describe cataracts as looking through a fogged-up or frosty window. They affect a person’s ability to see far and near.
Decreased Vision from a Vitamin Deficiency
Excessive drinking affects the way the liver absorbs vitamins needed for healthy eyesight. For example, a deficiency in vitamin A caused by alcoholism can cause dryness, thinning or perforation of the cornea, night blindness, or blindness from retinal damage. A deficiency of vitamin B-1 caused by drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can cause the eye muscles to become weak or paralyzed.
Consuming an excessive amount of alcohol is a risk factor for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Age-related macular degeneration is the main cause of severe vision loss in people over 50.
All Is Not Lost
If you have been drinking excessively and noticed changes to your vision, don’t assume that you’ve permanently damaged your eyes and that therefore there’s no point in trying to change your drinking habits. Most eye damage from alcohol can be reversed or stopped. Detoxing from alcohol, committing to long-term sobriety, and restoring nutrients through a healthy diet and lifestyle will set the body back on a path to wellness. It’s not too late.
Help Is Available
If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, help is available. You are not alone. Call and speak to a professional staff member at English Mountain Recovery, located in the heart of the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. We will answer your questions, explain our treatment services, and help you begin your journey on the path to recovery.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.