How Alcohol Affects Your Eyes

Drinking alcohol excessively (frequently or in large amounts) can have harmful effects on your body, including your eyes. Heavy alcohol use may cause problems with your vision and overall eye health. Some temporary effects occur when you drink, and other effects take time to develop and can be permanent. This article describes the potential effects of alcohol on your eyes.

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Decreased Visual Performance

Your overall visual performance may be altered since drinking heavily impairs brain function. Your vision relies on a few different functions that your brain and eyes carry out, and alcohol impairs more than one of these functions. These are short-term effects that can begin while you are drinking, and can last for several hours afterward.

Eye Muscle Control

Your muscles might not move as effectively while you are under the influence of alcohol. When this happens, you may have blurred vision or double vision due to weakened eye-muscle coordination.

Slow Pupil Reactions

Alcohol tends to affect the speed at which your iris constricts and dilates. A driver that has been drinking alcohol cannot adapt as quickly to oncoming headlights.

Decreased Peripheral Vision

Drinking alcohol may decrease the sensitivity of your peripheral vision. You might not see very well on your right and left sides, which can cause you to ignore objects on your sides. This may also give you the effect or perception of having tunnel vision.

Decreased Contrast Sensitivity

Drinking too much alcohol can alter your contrast sensitivity, or how precise you can discern between shades of gray. Driving in rain or fog will be much more dangerous.

Slow Reaction

Your overall responses can slow down while you are under the influence of alcohol. This means that it can take a little longer than usual for your brain to recognize what you are seeing, and it can take longer than usual for you to decide what to do about it.

The delay is only a few milliseconds, but it can make a difference in your ability to carry out normal activities, For example, you may also experience delayed reactions while driving.

Optic Neuropathy

In addition to the short-term and temporary effects of alcohol, consuming heavy amounts of alcohol can lead to irreversible eye problems over time. You might develop a painless loss of vision, decreased peripheral vision, or reduced color vision.

Also referred to as tobacco-alcohol amblyopia, people who drink or smoke in excess can develop optic neuropathy, though it is rare. Studies have shown that vision loss can be a result of a nutritional deficiency, and some professionals believe that the condition develops because of the toxic effects of alcohol and tobacco.

Methanol Poisoning

Optic neuropathy can also develop as a result of accidental methanol poisoning. Methanol is used in some hand sanitizers instead of ethyl alcohol. In some cases, methanol poisoning can occur as a result of drinking homemade alcohol or moonshine.


Alcohol has been shown to be a trigger for severe migraine headaches in some people. It is a common trigger for people who have migraines, and alcohol can also trigger a headache for some people who don't otherwise have migraines or headaches.

A Word From Verywell

Occasionally drinking moderate amounts of alcohol doesn't usually cause any health problems. But if you are a heavy drinker—which means consuming alcohol more than a few times per week or binge drinking—you will likely experience health issues as a result. It is hard to predict whether you will develop effects that harm your liver, heart, nerves, or eyes, and you can experience a combination of these. If you drink excessively, be sure to see a healthcare professional so you can get help cutting down before the effects on your health get worse.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Castro JJ, Pozo AM, Rubiño M, Anera RG, Jiménez del barco L. Retinal-image quality and night-vision performance after alcohol consumption. J Ophthalmol. 2014;2014:704823. doi:10.1155/2014/704823

  3. Bayless SJ, Harvey AJ. Testing alcohol myopia theory: examining the effects of alcohol intoxication on simultaneous central and peripheral attention. Perception. 2017;46(1):90-99. doi:10.1177/0301006616672221

  4. Timney B, Ferreira M, Matson S. A signal detection analysis of the effects of alcohol on visual contrast sensitivity Perception. 2016;45(12):1358-1374. doi:10.1177/0301006616658306

  5. Joseph S, Al-ali S, Tripathi A. Tobacco-alcohol optic neuropathy. Is complete recovery possible? Oman J Ophthalmol. 2014;7(1):50. doi:10.4103/0974-620X.127948

  6. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA updates on hand sanitizers consumers should not use.

  7. Rockett FC, De oliveira VR, Castro K, Chaves ML, Perla Ada S, Perry ID. Dietary aspects of migraine trigger factors. Nutr Rev. 2012;70(6):337-56. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00468.x

Additional Reading
  • Alexander, Larry J, OD. Primary Care of the Posterior Segment, Third Edition. McGraw-Hill.

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.