While more research is needed, current studies suggest that drinking moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol may increase your risk of developing macular degeneration, as well as worsen existing early stages.

Macular degeneration is a type of eye condition that impacts visual sharpness (acuity), and it’s common in adults over age 50. Symptoms of late stage AMD include seeing distorted straight lines, a decrease in color intensity, and a gradual loss of central vision.

Also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), there are other risk factors for this eye condition aside from getting older. This includes certain lifestyle factors, such as diet and alcohol consumption.

Learn more about what researchers know about the possible link between AMD and alcohol, and what you may be able to do to help decrease your risk of AMD development or progression.

While it’s unclear whether there’s a direct cause-and-effect relationship between drinking alcohol and AMD, research suggests that alcohol consumption may worsen this eye disease. Heavy drinking is of particular concern.

According to a 2021 research review of seven studies, researchers found that any link between alcohol and AMD was dependent on the amount of alcohol consumed, as well as the stage of AMD. Their review suggests that:

  • Moderate to heavy drinking could worsen early AMD, but light drinking was not found to have a significant impact.
  • No amount of alcohol consumption was found to significantly impact late stages of AMD.
  • Daily or moderate to heavy alcohol consumption was found to increase the risk of early AMD.

A separate randomized 2021 study also echoes these findings. While researchers found a link between heavy alcohol consumption and late stage AMD, they also noted a higher risk in those with genetic predispositions who had 2.70 drinks or more per week.

The same study also noted alcohol’s possible link with geographic atrophy. This refers to an irreversible deterioration of the delicate tissues beneath the retina in the eye that’s part of late stage AMD that leads to permanent vision loss.

Aside from AMD risks, one 2021 literature review discusses other potential effects of alcohol consumption on your eyes, including:

While more studies are needed on this end, current research suggests that both moderate and heavy drinking could possibly increase the risk of developing AMD. But it’s not clear whether cutting back on alcohol consumption will necessarily prevent early AMD.

Also, alcohol avoidance has not been clinically proven to help in the late stages of AMD. This means that while cutting back on (or avoiding) alcohol might help prevent early AMD from worsening, alcohol cessation may not reverse this eye condition once you have it particularly in late stage AMD.

You may also speak with a doctor about whether it’s safe to drink alcohol based on whether you’re considered at high risk for developing AMD. Such risk factors include:

Some of the above risk factors for AMD, such as hypertension, have also been associated with excessive alcohol use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines excessive alcohol use as more than 8 drinks per week for women and more than 15 for men.

If you have AMD and are concerned about your alcohol intake, consider speaking with a doctor. Quitting alcohol completely can be difficult, but a doctor can help build a cessation plan that works for you.

They may recommend a combination of the following strategies:

  • setting goals
  • tracking how much you currently drink
  • counting and measuring drinks
  • avoiding triggers, such as stress or social drinking
  • finding alternatives
  • behavioral therapy or peer support

Consider discussing alcohol intake and other known risk factors associated with AMD with a doctor. Below are a few questions to help get you started:

Can I drink alcohol if I have macular degeneration?

Having AMD does not automatically mean you need to completely avoid alcohol, but this largely depends on the stage and type of AMD, as well as the amount you drink. Having other risk factors, such as smoking and genetics, could also play a role.

What should I avoid if I have macular degeneration

Besides alcohol, consider speaking with an eye doctor about other lifestyle habits that may worsen AMD. These include smoking, eating a diet high in saturated fats, and consistent or unprotected sun exposure.

Is AMD reversible?

AMD is not reversible, and there’s currently no cure. The goal of treatment is to help prevent AMD progression while also preserving your central vision. A doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, such as eliminating alcohol consumption, as well as treatments like daily specially formulated nutritional supplement tablets known as AREDS 2 for intermediate dry AMD and anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) injections for active wet AMD.

AMD is a common eye condition, but it’s also a leading cause of blindness in adults over age 65. While AMD cannot be reversed, it’s important to take steps to help prevent its progression and possible vision loss. This includes treatments as well as lifestyle changes.

Consuming alcohol is one such lifestyle consideration. Research suggests that drinking moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol may increase the risk of AMD development and progression.

If you’re concerned about drinking and your eye health, consider speaking with a doctor about ways you may be able to limit your intake.