What are Alcoholic Eyes?

Have you ever noticed someone’s eyes looking unfocused and glossy after they’ve had too much to drink? This isn’t just a superficial change; it actually reveals a lot about the impact alcohol has on our bodies.

Our eyes, though small, are deeply affected by alcohol use, revealing a surprising amount of health issues. In this article, we’ll explore how alcohol consumption and even alcohol abuse can lead to health issues involving the eyes – including blurred vision, double vision, and the well-known “glassy” look and finally discuss treatment options for addressing alcohol use disorder and alcohol abuse.

Effects of Alcohol on the Eyes

Heavy drinking doesn’t just harm your overall health; it also significantly impacts your eye health as well. Alcohol can cause a range of eye problems, from temporary issues like blurred or double vision, and changes in pupil size to the recognizable glassy-eyed look. It can also lead to more serious eye diseases such as Age-related Macular Degeneration and worsen conditions like Dry Eye Syndrome. Understanding how alcohol affects the eyes is crucial to recognizing the risks associated with drinking alcohol, alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder. Here’s what you need to know:

Blurred Vision

Even moderate alcohol consumption can cause blurred vision. This is because alcohol affects how your brain processes information. Alcohol use can relax your eye muscles, making it harder for the lens in your eye to focus automatically and cause temporary vision impairment. In contrast, heavy drinking can exacerbate this effect, making it difficult to see clearly.

Double Vision

Heavy drinking can impair the nerves and muscles that control eye movements, resulting in double vision, medically referred to as diplopia. When this happens, the eye muscles cannot coordinate properly, causing you to see two images instead of one. This significantly impacts depth perception and balance.

Effects on Pupil Size

Alcohol can also have an impact on involuntary movements, including the dilation and constriction of pupils. Alcohol often causes pupils to dilate (increase pupil size), making it harder to adjust to light changes. Even though this effect is temporary, dilated pupils may have an impact on the ability to drive safely at night or to transition between brightly lit and darker environments.

Recognizing Alcoholic Eyes

After drinking, the glassy appearance of the eyes is due to the dilation of blood vessels, making them look more prominent and giving a shiny, glazed look. One of the most visible signs of heavy drinking is the appearance of “alcoholic eyes” – a term that refers to the red, bloodshot eyes, and glassy look often seen in those who drink excessively.

Alcohol-induced dehydration also contributes to the redness and dryness of the eyes, further enhancing this effect. If someone exhibits glassy eyes along with symptoms such as a blank stare, this could indicate alcohol abuse and may necessitate immediate medical care or an evaluation for alcohol use disorder.

Other Eye Diseases Associated with Alcohol Abuse

Excessive drinking increases the risk of various eye conditions, some of which are serious:

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

AMD is a progressive eye disease that can lead to significant vision loss, particularly in the center of your visual field. Excessive alcohol use can harm the macula – the part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. Studies suggest that the toxic effects of alcohol on the retina and the macula could accelerate the degeneration process, impacting overall visual function.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry Eye Syndrome is a condition where your eyes don’t produce enough tears or the right quality of tears to keep them properly lubricated. This syndrome can also be exacerbated by alcohol abuse. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, leading to dehydration, which reduces tear production and exacerbates dry eye syndrome. This condition causes irritation, a gritty sensation, and discomfort, especially in dry environments.


Heavy alcohol use can speed up the development of cataracts, a condition where the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. The effects of alcohol use can change the lens proteins, leading to cloudiness and reduced vision. As cataracts gets worse, people may experience blurry vision, difficulty seeing at night and sensitivity to glare, making daily tasks more difficult.


Chronic heavy drinking may elevate intraocular pressure, increasing the risk of glaucoma, which can lead to irreversible vision loss. Early stages are often asymptomatic, but as the disease progresses, peripheral vision may be lost, eventually leading to blindness if left untreated.

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Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Eye Disease Progression

Regular and excessive alcohol consumption can have a significant role in the onset and progression of various eye diseases. The toxic effects of alcohol on ocular tissues, changes in blood pressure, and dehydration all interplay to affect eye health negatively. By limiting alcohol intake, individuals can potentially slow the advancement of pre-existing eye diseases and protect their vision from the detrimental impact that alcohol may have on the eyes. It is advised for those with eye diseases or concerns about their eye health to discuss their alcohol consumption with a healthcare provider.

How Alcohol Affects Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep

Alcohol consumption has a profound effect on sleep, particularly on the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage, which is essential for restful sleep and cognitive functions like memory and learning. When alcohol is consumed, especially in larger quantities, it can suppress REM sleep in the first half of the night, leading to a disruption of the natural sleep cycle.

This disruption may not only result in less overall REM sleep but can also lead to a rebound effect in the second half of the night, with an increase in REM sleep. However, this sleep is often fragmented and of poor quality. This can cause symptoms similar to REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), where individuals act out their dreams due to incomplete muscle paralysis during REM sleep.

To better visualize the impact of alcohol on REM sleep:

Effects of Heavy Alcohol Consumption on REM Sleep

  • Onset of REM Sleep: Significantly delayed
  • Duration of REM: Rebound effect with disrupted REM in later sleep cycles
  • Quality of REM: Generally poor and fragmented
  • REM Behavior: Increased risk of REM sleep disorders
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Intense, prolonged REM with disturbed sleep

Seeking Medical Care for Alcohol-Related Eye Issues

If you notice glassy eyes after heavy drinking, it’s essential to seek medical care. Glassy eyes can indicate severe dehydration, high blood pressure, or the onset of eye diseases. Early diagnosis can help manage these conditions and prevent further damage. For those with alcohol use disorder, professional treatment is crucial for overall health, including eye health.

Early Detection of Eye Problems

Early detection of alcohol-related eye issues is vital for maintaining eye health and overall well-being. Symptoms such as blurred vision, double vision, or a glassy appearance of the eyes should prompt immediate consultation with an eye specialist. The American Academy of Ophthalmology emphasizes the significance of regular eye exams, which can uncover the hidden effects of alcohol on the eyes.

Eye problems induced by alcohol abuse might not always be immediately apparent, making routine check-ups an essential tool for early detection. Early diagnosis of conditions such as Dry eye syndrome, blood vessel damage, or changes in pupil size can help in crafting an effective treatment plan before these issues cause significant or permanent damage.

Attention to the early warning signs and symptoms also enables healthcare providers to offer advice on reducing alcohol consumption and to catch potential addiction-related health problems. Left unchecked, these could develop into irreversible eye diseases, further emphasizing the importance of swift medical intervention.

Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can manifest in numerous signs and symptoms, impacting various bodily functions and overall health. One common symptom is glassy or glossy-looking eyes, which occur due to the relaxation of the eye muscles and dilation of blood vessels. Heavy drinking can lead to blurred or double vision, as alcohol interferes with the brain’s ability to process visual cues. Chronic alcohol abuse may also contribute to serious eye conditions, such as Age-related macular degeneration and Dry eye syndrome.

Prolonged consumption of alcohol affects eye health by altering blood pressure and pupil size, which are responsible for our ability to see clearly. Additionally, excessive drinking can interfere with the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep cycle, leading to sleep disturbances and further impacting eye conditions.

Common symptoms associated with heavy alcohol consumption, one might find the following:

  • Glassy appearance of the eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Dryness or redness of the eyes
  • Severe dehydration impacting eye function

If these symptoms arise, coupled with a pattern of excessive drinking, it may signal an alcohol use disorder. Seeking medical care is crucial to address the negative effects and potentially prevent long-term damage to eye health and other systems in the body.

Get Back On Track Today

Excessive drinking can take a significant toll on your eye health, leading to symptoms such as glassy eyes. Chronic alcohol abuse affects more than just your liver; it can also cause serious damage to your vision. Blurred vision and double vision are common symptoms, with heavier drinking sessions potentially resulting in temporary myopia.

If you notice a glassy appearance in your eyes or a loved one’s, it may be a sign of alcohol use disorder. Remember, you’re not alone, and help is only one step away. Our admissions team is here to provide you with comprehensive care and support at every stage. Our dedicated team understands the complexity of substance use disorder, including its negative effects on eye health and overall well-being. Don’t let alcohol control your life. Connect with us today and start your journey to recovery.