Are Beer Goggles Permanent? Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on Your Vision
Drinking can impair your vision … true or false? Get the full scoop here:
“Beer goggles”—the evil twin of “rose-colored glasses”—are the point where a drinker’s vision becomes so blurry everyone in the room looks like a sex goddess. Is it only mental perception that is affected—or do the eyes themselves suffer direct, perhaps lasting, physical effects?
As most students of twentieth-century American history know, during the Prohibition era rumors abounded of people going instantly blind from drinking illegal alcohol. There’s some truth in those stories: improperly brewed drinks, especially liquor distilled from industrial alcohols (the kind added to fuels and other chemical products not intended for consumption), can contain dangerous levels of toxic methanol. And consuming methanol can indeed cause permanent blindness (not to mention failure of even more vital organs)—though, contrary to urban legend, it normally takes at least 12 hours for vision to blur noticeably, and several more hours for damage to become irreversible.
But what about professionally brewed, methanol-free drinks? Do they pose any threat of making “beer goggles” permanent? And if so, how big is the threat? This article looks at long-term effects of alcohol on vision.
THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON ALCOHOL
First off, vision is a joint project of eyes and brain. While the most common causes of blindness have their origins in the eye’s lens, retina or optic nerve, direct damage to the brain can also result in vision loss. And long-term overuse of alcohol can damage the brain in multiple ways, resulting in:
- Reduced learning abilities and memory function, even when sober
- Chronic confusion
- Clinical depression
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Physical brain shrinkage
- Paralysis of nerves that control eye movement
While few of these effects are directly related to vision (and some are due to bad health habits that go with alcoholism, not to the alcohol itself), this does show that long-term heavy drinking can turn many malfunctions associated with being “drunk” into permanent parts of day-to-day life.
THIS IS YOUR VISION AFTER ALCOHOLISM
As for direct long-term effects of alcohol on vision, scientific studies indicate that:
- Repeatedly subjecting any physical function to unreasonable strain creates high risk that the “strained” condition will become permanent. Since alcohol intoxication slows eye muscle control and pupil contraction, repeated heavy drinking may lead to permanently sluggish eyes or chronic eye-muscle tremors—and even to toxic amblyopia, a form of low vision or blindness.
- People with histories of heavy drinking have greater risk of dry eye—a potential cause of chronic blurry vision and, in extreme cases, blindness—due to changes in tear production.
- Alcohol consumption may be linked to increased pressure inside the eye—a major risk factor for glaucoma, which leads to permanent blindness unless treated.
- Heavy drinkers are more prone to cataracts than are nondrinkers.
- Drinking while pregnant puts the unborn child at risk for uncoordinated eye muscles, slowed visual focus and underdeveloped optic nerves.
Plus, alcoholics and heavy drinkers live at high risk for major accidents, placing them in danger of traumatic eye or brain injury that can seriously damage vision.
EYE CARE FOR THOSE RECOVERING FROM ALCOHOLISM
Anyone recovering from alcoholism should schedule a complete eye checkup (not just a vision test) to ensure that any alcohol-related damage is discovered and treated. While not all vision-affecting conditions can be completely repaired, there are usually ways to keep damage from getting worse and to minimize the risk of serious permanent impairment.
Even if no immediate serious conditions are discovered, the eyes of a former compulsive drinker may remain vulnerable to future damage.
So if you’ve had alcoholism issues, be particularly diligent about eye care:
- Have professional eye checkups on a regular schedule, whether or not you’ve personally noticed anything out of the ordinary. Follow your ophthalmologist’s individualized eye-care recommendations.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Many eye problems are related to obesity or poor nutrition.
- If you’ve been prescribed glasses or contact lenses, wear them! It reduces eyestrain and discomfort.
- Try not to keep your eyes focused on one small area for more than 20 minutes at a time. Give your vision regular breaks by shifting it to different points and distances.
- If you spend long periods on computers and mobile devices, try to stay aware of how often you blink: 15–20 times a minute is typical under most circumstances, but looking into the light of electronic screens, many people slip into a semi-hypnotized state and blink as few as three times per minute. This puts them in a high-risk category for dry-eye issues.
- Try not to sit where you may catch any glare out of the corner of an eye.
- Wear sunglasses on bright days. For maximum protection from glare, choose sunglasses with side shields, and top your head with a visored or brimmed hat (which also protects facial skin from sun damage).
- Protect your eyes (and head) from physical injury. Wear safety goggles, and a hard hat or helmet if recommended, while participating in activities with high likelihood of flying debris.
- If your eyes feel persistently “gritty,” or as if they have something in them when they don’t, you may be developing a dry-eye problem. Don’t just buy a bottle of over-the-counter artificial tears: many provide temporary relief at the price of letting the underlying problem get worse. Ask your ophthalmologist if you need special eye drops, new glasses or behavior modification.
- If you notice any sign of potentially serious eye problems—strange discharge, pain that makes your eyes temporarily impossible to open, seeing floating dark spots or bright flashes or strange “halos”—make an immediate appointment with an ophthalmologist.
- And, of course, avoid additional drinking, as well as smoking and the use of other potentially dangerous substances.
Finally, be optimistic! Whatever effects alcohol has had on your eyes, what’s most important is your inner vision of a bright, sober future.
American Foundation for the Blind. “Cortical Visual Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Neurological Vision Loss.” Accessed September 22, 2017.
Ionides, Alexander. “What Alcohol Really Does to Your Eyesight.” Independent, September 15, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Alert: Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain.” October 2004. Accessed September 22, 2017.
Oscar-Berman, Marlene, and Ksenija Marinkovic. “Alcohol: Effects on Neurobehavioral Functions and the Brain.” Neuropsychology Review, September 2007, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 239–257. Accessed September 22, 2017.
Peragallo, Jason, Valerie Biousse, and Nancy J. Newman. “Ocular Manifestations of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.” Current Opinion in Ophthalmology, November 2013, Vol. 24, No. 6, pp. 566–573. Accessed September 22, 2017.
Ramachandran, Vilaynur S., and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran. “When Blindness Is in the Mind, Not the Eyes.” Scientific American MIND, December 1, 2008. Accessed September 22, 2017.