Drinking alcohol once in a while won’t cause serious damage to your eyes, although depending on the amount consumed, an individual may experience blurred vision, double vision, and/or dizziness. This usually subsides over a short amount of time once a person stops drinking.
Heavy drinkers or individuals that drink often put themselves at a higher risk for short term and permanent damages. Heavy drinking can also lead to other bodily risks, such as liver damage which is closely related to eye health.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol
Some short-term effects of alcohol abuse may include:
- eye twitching — excessive intake of alcohol can cause eye twitching or myokymia
- migraines — migraine can be caused by drinking too much and can be accompanied by light sensitivity and other vision problems
- rapid eye movement (REM) — alcohol can make a person fall asleep more easily but it decreases REM sleep leaving people feeling unrested
- slow pupil reaction — alcohol can cause a person’s iris to dilate much slower than normal which can lead to tunnel vision
- dryness — even a small amount of alcohol consumed can cause dry eyes or make existing dry eyes worse
- damage contrast — alcohol can impair a person’s ability to see the difference between things or objects based on how dark or light they are. People also have problems distinguishing different shades of colors which can be incredibly dangerous when diving.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
For heavy drinkers and people with an AUD, especially chronic, severe alcoholics, the long term effects of alcohol abuse can be especially harmful to a person’s body. The following are some of the long term issues associated with eye damage and alcohol abuse.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that causes the central portion of the retina, or macula, to wear down. AMD is the leading cause of permanent vision loss and gets worse over time. Heavy consumption of alcohol can cause damage to the retina and increase the risk for AMD.
Prenatal Alcohol Exposure
Prenatal alcohol exposure happens when a woman consumes alcohol while pregnant. No amount of alcohol is safe to consume while pregnant. Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause a range of cognitive, behavioral, and developmental problems which can lead to lasting damage to a child’s eyesight. Prenatal alcohol exposure is also one of the leading preventable causes of these defects.
Bloodshot eyes, or red eyes, is one of the most common telltale signs of a heavy drinker. Bloodshot eyes are a result of extreme dilation of the blood vessels on the surface of the eye, called the sclera, resulting in a red tint, which is caused by heavy drinking.
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Heavy drinking also depletes the reserve of nutrients in the body that is necessary for eye health. This can lead to a condition known as alcoholic optic neuritis.
There are many vital vitamins a person is deprived of when consuming large quantities of alcohol. The most common deficiency among heavy drinkers is the lack of vitamin B. This includes B12, B9, and B6 which help lower the levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is a protein that is often related to the development of AMD.
B vitamins also include Thiamine which is important for neurobiological health.
Other vitamins that are often depleted are:
- vitamin C
- Optic Neuropathy
Optic Neuropathy is essentially visual impairment due to damage of the optic nerve. Toxic optic neuropathy is damage to the nerve due to a toxin, like alcohol.
The symptoms include loss of peripheral vision, blurriness, vision fading in and out, and loss of color. These symptoms can be a combination and can have a rapid onset.
Heavy drinkers are more at risk for optic neuropathy due to the combination of vitamin deficiency and loss of appetite resulting in malnutrition.
Unfortunately, most cases of optic neuropathy are diagnosed after a possibility of recovery, meaning most cases of optic neuropathy are permanent and irreversible.
Cataracts are a condition identifiable by an opaque layer on the lens of the eye that causes blurred vision.
Some studies have found an association between heavy alcohol consumption and the development of age-related cataracts. Heavy alcohol consumption is more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Preventing Alcohol-Related Eye Damage
Many of the long-term conditions of the eye that are related to alcohol abuse are irreversible. Heavy drinkers or people who have an alcohol abuse disorder are at a much higher risk for lasting eye damage.
Available information does not suggest that an occasional drink is likely to cause permanent damage to the eye, but because alcohol affects everyone differently. If there is a concern regarding alcohol-related eye damage it may be a good idea to avoid alcohol altogether.
Treatment For An Alcohol Use Disorder
Individuals struggling with an AUD may not realize the level of irreversible damage being done to their body over time. If you or someone you love is battling an alcohol addiction, we have specialists available to help walk you through the stages to get the help needed for sobriety.
Make the connection today, we are here for you and your loved ones. Our treatment facilities offer holistic care for residents.
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- Current Drug Abuse Reviews - Alcohol Use and Cataract
- American Journal of Ophthalmology - Alcohol Consumption and the Long-Term Incidence of Cataract and Cataract Surgery: The Blue Mountains Eye Study
- Harvard Health - What to do about cataract
- Indian Journal of Ophthalmology - Toxic optic neuropathy
- Optometry and Vision Science - Different Amounts of Alcohol Consumption and Cataract: A Meta Analysis