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How Alcohol Use Affects Your Eyes

There’s been an uptick in recent years in alcohol and recreational drug use in Canada. You’ve probably heard it talked about in relation to mental and physical health, but have you ever considered how it might be affecting your eyes?

Vision is an essential sense that allows us to perceive the world around us. It’s influenced by factors like genetics and age, but our lifestyle choices can also affect it. In fact, drug and alcohol use stand out as significant contributors to vision problems and eye health issues. Keep reading to find out how mindful consumption can help to protect your vision, and what you can do to maintain the health of your eyes.


Alcohol and vision

A glass of wine, a specialty cocktail, or an icy cold beer can be an enjoyable way to relax, unwind, and celebrate, but over-imbibing affects vision in unpleasant ways. Even moderate alcohol consumption can lead to blurred vision, making it difficult to focus on objects.

Alcohol also impairs your peripheral vision, limiting your ability to see objects from the corners of your eyes. You won’t be able to judge distances as accurately while under the influence of alcohol, which makes activities like driving especially dangerous. It’s also possible to experience double vision, when you’re unable to distinguish one object from two.

Even casual drinkers may have experienced these temporary and unpleasant symptoms. Thankfully, they usually resolve once the effect of the alcohol has worn off, but other more lasting impacts can remain. Keep reading to find out why cutting back on alcohol consumption is recommended.


Lasting implications

Unfortunately, heavy alcohol use can also affect your eyes and vision in more lasting ways, leading to longer term problems. A meta-analysis of how varying amounts of alcohol contributed to cataract development found that heavy drinkers were more likely to develop this condition, which causes the lenses of your eyes to become cloudy. Consuming more than two standard drinks per day can elevate your risk of cataracts significantly.

Alcohol consumption can also contribute to issues associated with macular degeneration. This is a condition that damages the centre of the retina and impairs central vision. It’s a leading cause of vision loss in those over 55 years, affecting about 2.5 million Canadians.  In particular, new research shows that high alcohol consumption may be linked to geographic atrophy (GA), an untreatable symptom of age-related macular degeneration that results in blind spots. This risk factor is particularly evident in individuals who smoke.

Optic neuropathies can also result from alcohol use. These conditions are often not detected until the damage is permanent, meaning that full recovery of vision is not possible. The risk of nutritional and toxic optic neuropathies is heightened by the consumption of alcohol, particularly in heavy smokers.


How to protect your eyes

Casual or even moderate drinking is unlikely to have a lasting impact on your vision, but heavy drinkers—and especially those who are also heavy smokers—should note that these activities can significantly heighten the risk of serious vision-related issues.

The best way to protect your vision and eye health is by making mindful choices when it comes to alcohol and drug use. If you choose to consume alcohol, do so in moderation. Canada’s low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines recommend limiting your intake to no more than two standard drinks per day for women and three per day for men. You can read more about what constitutes a standard drink and the maximum allowance per week here.

If you’re struggling to reduce your alcohol consumption or stay within these guidelines, it’s essential to seek support. Professional help and rehabilitation programs can guide you towards recovery, protecting your mental and physical health and well-being as well as your long term vision.

Regardless of your lifestyle choices, having your eyes examined regularly by a skilled optometrist is essential for maintaining eye health. Routine exams can help to detect and address vision problems and eye diseases early, enhancing your chances of a successful treatment.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate hydration will contribute to overall good health, including the health of your eyes and vision.


Cheers to clear vision

Most of us have experienced the unpleasant effects of having had too much to drink on occasion, but don’t worry: moderate consumption and even occasional over-imbibing isn’t likely to have lasting effects on your sight. If you notice that your eyes are dry or red after a night of drinking, you may find that using lubricating drops offer some comfort.

However, to protect your eyes and vision for the long term, it’s best to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, especially if you also smoke. This can reduce your risk of developing serious complications and even permanent damage to your eyesight.

By making considered choices and seeking help when necessary, you’ll be investing in your overall well-being as well as helping to protect your eyes from lasting damage. Cheers to that!