Whether you consider yourself a “social drinker” or have struggled with alcohol abuse, consuming any amount of alcohol consistently over time can have negative physical and psychological consequences. Among its short-term effects are blurred vision and double vision, which can be temporary effects of intoxication, although they typically wear off as the person sobers up or the next day. Alcohol abuse can also contribute to long-term changes to vision such as an increased risk of developing cataracts.
Here’s what you should know about alcohol and vision problems as well as other negative consequences of alcohol abuse:
What Happens at Various BAC Levels?
The liver metabolizes about one standard serving of alcohol per hour.1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers a standard drink to be any alcoholic beverage that contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol.2 In the U.S., this can be found in:2
- 12 ounces of beer, or one bottle at 5% alcohol.
- 8 ounces of malt liquor at 7% alcohol.
- 5 ounces of wine at 12% alcohol.
- 1.5 ounces of 80 poof hard liquor, or one shot at 40% alcohol.
When it comes to measuring a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, a percentage denotes the amount of alcohol in their blood stream.3 For example, a BAC of 0.10% means that your blood supply contains one part alcohol for every 1,000 parts blood.3 The rates at which different individuals achieve a certain BAC level may be affected by other factors such as body weight and composition, gender, pattern of drinking, and genetics.3
As alcohol intake increases and BAC levels rise accordingly, alcohol’s intoxicating effects can show up in a number of ways. At increasingly high BAC levels, a person may experience any of the following symptoms:3,4
- 0.02%-0.04%: Often, no observable effects at this level. Some may experience slight body warmth, relaxation, and some loss of judgement. However, there is no loss of physical coordination, and other depressant effects are not yet apparent.
- 0.05%-0.07%: A person may experience a feeling of physical warmth, perhaps the beginning of facial flushing. They may begin to be more gregarious and have lowered inhibitions in other ways such as talking louder, exaggerated behavior, and intensified emotions. Mood swings begin.
- 0.08%-0.09%: In most states, this is above the legal limit at which a person can no longer drive since motor function, reaction times, and physical coordination are all affected.
- 0.10%-0.14%: Loss of judgement and physical coordination occurs including stumbling, slurred speech, emotional changes, and the onset of dysphoria (i.e., anxiety, restlessness). They’ll also experience blurred vision at this point.
- 0.15%-0.19%: Loss of physical control and gross motor impairment occur, with an increased risk of accidental injury from falling or experiencing a blackout. Vomiting may occur. There is a major loss of balance as well as definite vision changes such as blurred or double vision. Euphoria likely gives way to unpleasant emotions (dysphoria).
- 0.20% and above: A person at or above this BAC level is severely intoxicated. They will experience mental confusion, nausea, vomiting, and need assistance walking. There is an increased risk of loss of consciousness, coma or death due to respiratory failure.
Vision Issues from Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Blurry and double vision are common side effects of excessive alcohol consumption that typically arise around a BAC level of 0.08% but can begin at slightly different points for each individual.5 A history of heavy alcohol consumption can also lead to dry eye, a condition in which a person has a decreased ability to naturally lubricate and nourish their eyes with their own tears.6,7
Another short-term effect of drinking too much is changes in a person’s eye movement.5 Some studies show that alcohol can affect the attentional control of a person’s sight and reduces the accuracy of locating visual targets.5 Additionally, some research has shown that alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholic amblyopia, a bilateral loss of vision. However, this is rare and is mostly seen patients who are also smokers and have a poor dietary history.11
The American Optometric Association (AOA) notes that alcohol consumption may contribute to age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—an acquired eye disorder contributing to legal blindness in people over the age of 60.9 AMD affects the central part of the retina, which is responsible for providing clear, sharp vision. Among the AOA’s recommendations for reducing the risk of AMD is to reduce and moderate alcohol consumption.9
Some studies have also linked higher alcohol consumption to an increased risk of cataracts.10 This condition involves a cloudy or opaque area that forms on or near the normally clear lens of the eye.10 Cataracts may change a person’s vision, and without treatment, can cause blindness in one or both eyes. Typically, cataracts develop in older adults (e.g., 55 and older) as a result of age-related lens changes; however it is relatively more likely to develop in people who drink than those who do not.10
How Can I Minimize My Risk of Vision Problems?
There are many reasons to stop drinking, and damage to vision—whether short- or long-term—is one of them. Binge drinking and other problematic patterns of alcohol consumption can lead to negative side effects such as lowered inhibitions, mood swings, loss of coordination and judgment, raised blood pressure and blurry or double vision.12 While these short-term side effects can be harmful, drinking heavily on a regular basis increases the risk of developing more serious conditions such as an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 14.4 million Americans over the age of 18 have an alcohol use disorder.13 Among U.S. adults, 1 in 6 binge drinks about 4 times a month, drinking 7 alcoholic beverages per binge. While not everyone who binge drinks has an AUD, it can be a very significant risk factor for the development of an AUD.
Alcoholism can develop when a person can no longer control their alcohol use, compulsively abuse it despite its negative ramifications, and/or experience emotional distress when they are not drinking.14 If you suspect that you or someone you care about has an AUD, it may be time to seek professional help.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), reports that alcohol addiction treatment can be very effective, with research showing that 1 year later, about 1/3 of people treated for alcohol problems show no further symptoms.15 Even at its most severe, alcoholism may be effectively managed with professional treatment and ongoing recovery efforts.15
Alcohol.org is a subsidiary American Addiction Centers (AAC) which provides a nationwide network of treatment providers ready to assist you on your recovery journey. Read more on AAC’s approach to alcohol addiction treatment or call our admissions navigators now to discuss your treatment options. Our hotline is available 24/7 at 1-888-685-5770 and is 100% confidential.
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. MedlinePlus. (2018). Blood Alcohol Level.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health.
. Stanford University. (n.d.). What Is BAC?
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Blood Alcohol Concentration.
. Silva, J., Cristino, E. D., Almeida, N. L., Medeiros, P., & Santos, N. (2017). Effects of acute alcohol ingestion on eye movements and cognition: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study. PloS one, 12(10), e0186061.
. Peragallo, J., Biousse, V., & Newman, N. J. (2013). Ocular manifestations of drug and alcohol abuse. Current opinion in ophthalmology, 24(6), 566–573.
. American Optometric Association. (n.d.). Dry Eye.
[8-15]. Sharma, P., & Sharma, R. (2011). Toxic optic neuropathy. Indian journal of ophthalmology, 59(2), 137–141.
. American Optometric Association. (n.d.). Nutrition and Age-Related Macular Degeneration.
. American Optometric Association. (n.d.). Cataract.
. Prakash, J., Ryali, V., Srivastava, K., Bhat, P. S., Shashikumar, R., & Singal, A. (2011). Tobacco-alcohol amblyopia: A rare complication of prolonged alcohol abuse. Industrial psychiatry journal, 20(1), 66–68.
. Dubowski, Kurt. ResearchGate. (2019). Stages of acute alcoholic influence/intoxication blood alcohol concentration grams/100 ml stage of alcoholic influence clinical signs/symptoms.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018). Alcohol Use Disorder.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.