A Moment of Science

Blind Drunk

Is drinking yourself “blind” just an exaggeration, like “eating till you burst”? It’s unlikely that you’ll actually burst from a big dinner, or really go blind from a few drinks, but alcohol will in fact affect vision in two different ways.

Just one or two drinks are enough to slow down brain function, so this is the first way in which drinking affects vision. Brain cells, called neurons, rely on a very sensitive, very complex system of electrical signals to communicate. Alcohol interferes with the neuron’s electrical balance. Like a switchboard with a slow receptionist, the neurons just can’t receive or fire off electrical messages as fast.

In result, brain activity slows down, and you misjudge many things, including visual information like the distance between your fork and your plate, your hand and your glass, or even more important: the distance between your car and the one in front of you.

At higher levels, alcohol will affect the electrical system in the muscles. Here, too, electrical impulses will become slower, and when the eye muscles slow down, the eye can’t focus as quickly. Also, the two eyes will have difficulty moving in unison, resulting in double vision.

There is another type of alcohol, methanol, that is not for human consumption and really does cause blindness.

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