Excessive alcohol consumption can negatively affect the eyes, leading to rapid eye movement, double vision, and potential blindness.

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Experts associate alcohol consumption with several social, mental, and physical issues. Excessive alcohol drinking can lead to vision issues, including blindness.

The effects may be short term, such as blurred or double vision, or they may be long term and potentially permanent.

This article reviews how alcohol can affect vision, the possible short- and long-term effects, treatments, and more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Moderate alcohol consumption does not cause long-term vision problems or vision loss, but it can lead to short-term conditions that will clear up quickly, including blurred vision and headaches.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines drinking in moderation as limiting intake to two drinks or less per day for males and one drink or less per day for females.

The effects of heavy drinking

Heavy drinking can have several effects on the eyes and cause long-term symptoms. Heavy drinking may:

These correlations may contribute to several possible complications or effects on the eyes.

Learn more about the effects of chronic heavy drinking.

Even moderate alcohol consumption can cause changes in a person’s vision.

For example, many people have occult eye muscle imbalances, but the sober brain can preserve crisp, single vision. Once the person has consumed a little alcohol, the brain relaxes that control and vision problems become apparent. However, these changes will go away once the alcohol has cleared the system.

Intoxication has an association with vision changes such as:

How alcohol causes this

Short-term effects may result from intoxication, which people often describe as “being drunk.” This occurs when alcohol affects the central nervous system. A person can become intoxicated even with moderate drinking and may experience temporary disturbances to their vision.

Law enforcement officers assess several alcohol-induced changes to the eyes when performing a field sobriety test on a suspected impaired driver.

Intoxication is responsible for short-term effects such as blurred vision. Once a person recovers from intoxication, their vision should return to normal.

How it occurs

Intoxication can result from drinking too much alcohol. The amount of alcohol that will cause intoxication can vary greatly from person to person based on:

  • a person’s size
  • the type of alcohol they consume
  • their level of dehydration
  • fatigue
  • elevation
  • beverage carbonation
  • gender
  • the amount of food in the stomach
  • use of medications or other drugs
  • personal tolerance
  • mood or stress level

Preventions

A person may be able to prevent intoxication by:

  • setting limits
  • avoiding triggers for drinking too much
  • tracking and counting the number of drinks they consume
  • seeking support from friends or family to help limit drinks

Heavy drinking may damage the eyes over time, leading to potential long-term effects such as:

  • delayed reaction between the eyes and brain, which can lead to double vision or distorted vision
  • a decrease in the pupils’ ability to dilate, which affects how a person reacts to light and sees colors
  • bloodshot eyes due to enlarged blood vessels
  • development of migraine headaches
  • toxic amblyopia or nutritional optic neuropathy, which leads to vision loss but often links to both drinking and smoking
  • early onset age-related macular degeneration, which leads to vision loss or blindness
  • changes in perception of colors
  • development of dry eyes

How alcohol causes this

Long-term heavy drinking can cause interference between the brain and the eyes. It may also damage or speed up the aging of various structures inside the eye, such as the lens, retina, and optic nerve.

In addition, it may have a toxic effect, which can lead to the development of conditions that impair vision. Several other health issues can also result from long-term heavy drinking.

How it occurs

Heavy drinking can lead to long-term effects on the eyes that can range in severity from rapid eye movement to vision loss and blindness.

The NIAAA defines heavy drinking as follows:

  • for males, consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week
  • for females, consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week

Long-term excessive drinking can lead to potential health issues, including problems with vision.

Read more about alcoholism.

Treatments can vary based on how alcohol has affected a person’s eyes and optic nerve.

A person who experiences vision issues should see an ophthalmologist — a doctor specializing in eye care. The doctor can help diagnose an underlying condition and provide appropriate treatment.

Possible treatments include corrective lenses or glasses to correct blurred or distorted vision and use of eye drops to address bloodshot eyes.

A doctor can provide more details about what a person can do to address their vision issues. People may also consider quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption to reduce the risk of negative effects on the eyes and other aspects of health.

Learn more about the best apps to stop drinking alcohol.

A person should consider seeing an ophthalmologist if they experience unusual or worsening eye symptoms such as:

  • blurry vision
  • double vision
  • color changes
  • sensitivity to light
  • development of migraine
  • eye redness, dryness, or discomfort

These symptoms could indicate underlying issues that a doctor may be able to help correct.

Prevention may be the best way to improve a person’s outlook for their eyes and other aspects of mental and physical health in relation to alcohol.

No reliable sourcing indicates how many people experience vision issues due to alcohol.

A person may reduce their risk of developing vision issues due to alcohol by limiting their alcohol consumption. Even small changes can help reduce a person’s risk of developing issues with their eyes or other aspects of health.

Alcohol can cause both short- and long-term vision problems.

Possible short-term problems relating to intoxication include blurry vision, changes in color perception, and light sensitivity.

The potential long-term issues relate to changes to the eyes’ structures or the communication between the eyes and brain. These effects may be more permanent and can include reduced vision, migraine headaches, sensitivity to light, and even blindness.

Treatments will vary greatly based on a person’s symptoms or health conditions that develop as a result of alcohol use. A person should talk with a doctor about treatment options that will work for them.