Are Red Eyes A Sign Of Alcoholism?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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Exploring the Connection Between Red Eyes and Alcoholism

The eyes are windows through which somebody can display emotions, health problems, and struggles. Among the different colors that eyes can express, red is undoubtedly one of the most easily noted. It is commonly related to fatigue, irritants, and lack of sleep, but could it highlight a deeper underlying issue like alcoholism? 

Red eye color is a cosmetic concern for many. Still, only a few people focus on understanding the underlying root problem. Others often wave it away due to the misconception that it relates solely to physical causes.

The Ocular Clue: What Is Going On?

In a recent research, the causes of red eyes were attributed to conjunctivitis (30%), foreign bodies (23.3%), and trauma (8.6%) with more males having eye redness than females. 

Changes in the blood vessels in the eyes are the root cause of redness. Often, inflammation due to bacterial, fungal, or viral infections and dilation of vessels, the sclera, or the area surrounding the sclera causes these changes. Thus, red eyes are mostly nonmalignant, but some cases can result in total sight loss. Diagnosing the root cause of eye redness involves a thorough background check and a complete physical examination by a specialist.

Physiology of Red Eyes in Relation to Alcoholism

Alcohol consumption in moderation does not result in long-term effects on the eyes. However, in the case of alcohol addiction, otherwise known as alcoholism, it can lead to long-term effects that include but are not limited to continual eye redness. Alcohol remains in the body until the liver finally clears it out. At this time, it causes many eye effects, including redness and blurred vision. It relaxes the blood vessels, allowing them to dilate and resulting in the eyes attaining the red color. 

Dry Eye Syndrome (DES) is an eye disorder characterized by surface inflammation and discomfort. According to a 2016 meta-analysis research, alcohol consumption was a contributing factor in dry eye syndrome. Some researchers also found traces of ethanol in tears and ruled this as a factor related to altering the tear-film structure. A 2021 study of 77,000 people realized that 30% of alcohol consumers experience dry eye syndrome. 

Alcohol is a diuretic and can often lead to dehydration and eventually result in higher salt concentrations in the body. This causes quick evaporation of tears which causes inflammation and irritation. Additionally, alcohol use impairs the body’s ability to absorb, store, and transport vitamin A, which is crucial to good eye health. Ultimately, these factors result in symptomatic eye redness.

Underlying Health Problems

Undoubtedly, alcoholism is not the only contributing factor to red eyes; beyond the surface-level effects of alcoholism, its use can intensely affect the liver. Liver cirrhosis is a long-term liver damage where scar tissue replaces the liver cells, preventing it from functioning correctly. There is a close connection between the liver and the eye. This is reflected through metabolism, oxidative stress, and inflammation. Recognizing eye redness as a potential indicator of underlying liver problems underscores the broader health impact of alcoholism.

Recognizing Alcoholism

The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 78.3% of 219.2 million people aged 12 years and above had taken alcohol at some point in their lives. For many people, controlled use of alcohol is not harmful. However, in the survey, 29.5 million of the people aged 12 years and above had alcohol use disorder, and 1.4 million among these received alcohol use treatment.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the continual use of alcohol with an impaired ability to control or stop the habit even when it causes health, social, or occupational problems to a person. It can be classified into mild, moderate, and severe. A person suffering from AUD experiences distress and can cause harm while under the influence of alcohol. When the condition becomes severe, the person is deemed alcoholic. 

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

Loss of Control

The most noticeable sign of alcoholism is the inability to control consumption. Often, the person drinks more or spends more time drinking than intended. Even with an existing health condition, the person cannot control consumption despite knowing it may deteriorate the problem. A 2021 PubMed Central study shows that AUD is a significant cause of problems between families and friends. It leads to disruption of social activities and financial problems for most families.

Built-up Tolerance for Alcohol

Another sign of alcoholism is the ability to continue drinking for long hours without getting the intended effect previously experienced with fewer drinks.

Alcohol Intoxication

This is a result of too much alcohol consumption that eventually raises the amount of alcohol levels in the bloodstream. The higher the levels, the higher the effects. This intoxication is the cause of changes in behavior, often shown by slurred speech, poor coordination, mood instability, and loss of attention and memory. There are also instances where a person completely loses memory of the events, customarily called “blackouts.”

Withdrawal Symptoms

These symptoms occur when an individual tries to minimize alcohol consumption after extended periods of intake. Mainly, this occurs within a few hours to five days later. Withdrawal symptoms include hallucinations, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, restlessness, profuse sweating, and seizures.

Dangers of too Much Alcohol

Unhealthy use of alcohol affects not only the person using it but also the family, society, and country as well.

Alcohol Effects to the Country

In a 2015 American Journal of Preventive Medicine, excessive use of alcohol cost the country $249.0 billion in 2010. The government contributed to the payment of 40.4% of this amount. 

Alcohol Impact on Individual’s Safety

Alcohol use compromises judgment skills, leading to poor choices. A person under the influence of alcohol is likely to be involved in accidents, other body injuries, and drowning. There is an increased likelihood of the individual being involved in crimes as a victim or proprietor.

Impact on Health

Among the most known resultant health problems associated with too much alcohol use is liver cirrhosis. Heavy drinking causes liver inflammation and an increase in fat in the organ. Over time, this results in cirrhosis. Between 2007 and 2017, liver transplant clients increased by 67% for people with alcohol-related liver diseases. According to this study, among all recorded cirrhosis deaths in 2019, 50.3% were related to alcohol use. The deaths were highest among people between 25 to 34 years at 80.9%, followed by those of people between 35 to 45 years at 75.4%. 

Excessive drinking also leads to high blood pressure, putting a person at risk of developing heart conditions such as heart failure and an enlarged heart. Other health problems that are triggered by too much use of alcohol include diabetes, stroke, digestive problems, sexual dysfunction, neurological complications, weakened immunity, and an increased risk of cancer. In the United States, recent estimates indicate that 5.6% of cancer cases and 4.0% of cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol use.

Risk Factors Associated with Alcohol Use

Alcohol use starts early for most people. Statistically, 9.8 million youths between 18 to 25 years old reported binge drinking. Mainly, the occurrence of alcohol use disorder occurs between 20 to 30 years. There are risk factors that make some people more prone to acquiring AUD than others. 

Family History

Genetics accounts for a 60% role in contributing to the risk of acquiring AUD. Environmental factors also influence this risk. A parent, especially a mother, who consumes alcohol is likely to raise a child who will one day suffer from AUD.

Trauma and Mental Health Problems

A wide range of physiological conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, depression, childhood trauma, and hyperactivity disorder are likely to result in an individual developing uncontrolled alcohol use. 

Age at Drinking Onset

People who begin drinking at an early age are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder. The public use data file shows that with people above 26 years, those whose alcohol drinking onset was below 15 years were three times more likely to develop AUD as compared to those who begin at 21 years.

Social and Cultural Factors

Friends, close partners, and role models who drink occasionally are likely to influence a person’s level of alcohol consumption. Media outlets also tend to display alcohol use in ways that can be misinterpreted by some that it is acceptable to drink excessively.

Finding Help and Getting on a Recovery Journey

If you feel that you or a loved one occasionally drinks too much, is experiencing some of the signs mentioned earlier, or realizes that drinking is causing you and your family problems, contact a healthcare provider. Most people with alcohol use disorders fail to seek treatment owing to denial, which, unfortunately, is common. Additionally, the changes in the brain as a result of alcohol use make individuals prone to relapse. 

The good news, however, is that despite the problem seeming uncontrollable and the statistics being high, there are many treatment plans available. Approximately 70% of people with alcohol-related problems experience natural recovery. About 25% can get back to an alcohol-free life after utilizing alcohol services, according to epidemiology of recovery from AUD.

Types of Treatment

There are various treatment options available for clients with alcohol use disorder. The approaches are diverse and specific to the client since what works for one person may not work for the next.


Medication has been used effectively to help people reduce or completely stop drinking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three nonaddictive medications. These can be used alongside other treatment options.

Behavioral Treatment

Otherwise known as alcohol counseling, this treatment method involves getting into therapy with licensed therapists. Mainly, this involves approaches that aim at building motivation to prevent further drinking and learning skills to help cope and prevent a relapse. 

Mutual Support Groups

Support groups offer a safe environment where a person meets other people struggling with alcohol use disorder. Here, they share experiences, coping strategies, and other resources. These groups are helpful because they make people realize that others have a similar problem. Mutual support groups can be found through online groups, health facilities, or local community centers.

Finding reliable and free resources is often hard. Willing clients thus tend to give up on getting quality services that can help them on their recovery journey. Our Free Alcoholism Hotline, Support Groups Locator, and Alcohol-Related Resources are aimed at solving these problems for you and your loved one. Contact Alcohol Awareness today. We are here when you are ready to talk. It is essential always to remember that seeking help does not imply you are weak. On the contrary, accepting that you have alcohol use disorder requires strength. The first step towards recovery is always acceptance that you or a person close to you needs help to overcome any substance use disorder.