They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. In the case of prolonged excessive drinking, changes to the eyes can be one of the ways that damage to the body becomes apparent. While some of the effects may be reversible, others can become permanent if a person continues consuming alcohol.
Early, Temporary Changes
Some of the first indicators that a person has been drinking excessively are the ones that are easiest to reverse:
- Redness – sometimes becomes apparent while the person is still drinking and usually goes away when they stop consuming alcohol and become sober.
- Difficulty processing visual information – studies have found that such difficulty begins even with moderate amounts of alcohol consumption but returns to normal as the person’s blood alcohol level decreases.
- Involuntary eye movements – this is so common in people who have been drinking that it is a sign law enforcement watches for in people suspected of driving while intoxicated.
- Slower pupil response to lighting changes – this is particularly concerning if the person is driving at night because the pupil adjusting to let in more or less light allows the person to see things around them. Delays in pupil response increase the risk of the person being involved in a motor vehicle accident.
- Trouble judging distances – this creates a safety risk when driving and also increases the risk of all types of accidents, such as falls and burns.
- Dry, scratchy eyes – generally apparent the morning after a night of heavy drinking and easily treated with over-the-counter eye drops, dry eyes can create bigger issues when the tear ducts stop working.
These symptoms may only show up after a night of heavy drinking and then go away once the person’s body has had a chance to recover. But if the person doesn’t allow their body to fully recover between drinking episodes, their eyes may sustain further damage.
More Concerning, Less Reversible Changes
As a person progresses into heavier and prolonged drinking, nutritional deficiencies and organ damage can increase the impact on the eyes and the body overall. This damage becomes more pronounced and harder to address with time and severity of their drinking:
- Cataracts – requires surgery to correct
- Blurry, cloudy vision
- Colors seem less intense
- Heightened sensitivity to light
- Night blindness
- Changes in eyeglass prescription
- Night blindness – this may be caused by a deficiency of Vitamin A and/or zinc. Eating a healthy diet and taking a supplement that contains these valuable vitamins may be helpful.
- Thinning of the cornea/perforation of the cornea – the person may find their vision is less acute after this damage occurs, and it can cause persistent eye pain. Treatment may be possible, depending on the location and severity of the injury.
- Yellowing of the eyes – This can be a sign of severe liver damage, which can result from excessive alcohol use over time. This symptom may not be possible to address.
- Total loss of vision – blindness can occur when a person’s optic nerve deteriorates, as commonly happens in old age, but alcohol can expedite the process. This symptom may not be reversible once the damage is done.
Alcohol can also increase the risk of strokes and diabetes, which can also have adverse effects on a person’s vision. Diabetes is the result of the pancreas not functioning properly to create the correct amounts of insulin. Alcoholism can damage the pancreas and cause a person to become diabetic. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults between the ages of 20 and 74. Glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy can both be complications of diabetes, along with other eye conditions.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
When a woman who is pregnant is unable to stop drinking, there can be long-term consequences to her baby. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a condition that impacts fetuses whose mothers chronically consume large amounts of alcohol while pregnant. Children with FAS experience a number of adverse effects, including issues with their eyes:
- Malformations occurring while in utero
- Drooping upper eyelid
- Abnormally small eyes
- Decreased vision
If you are concerned that your eyes have been impacted by excessive, prolonged alcohol use, it is a good idea to make an appointment with an eye doctor right away and advise them about your alcohol use.
Guests at Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, receive whole-person care for their addiction, including support that helps restore health to body, mind, and spirit.