Oculomotor deficits caused by 0.06% and 0.10% blood alcohol concentrations and relationship to subjective perception of drunkenness

Clin Neurophysiol. 2010 Dec;121(12):2134-42. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2010.05.003. Epub 2010 Jun 8.


Objective: The visual system is vital during critical activities such as driving. Studying how alcohol compromises the visual system physiologically is therefore important for safety reasons. The objective of the study was to investigate alcohol-related impairments in visual tasks performed under controlled breath alcohol concentrations (BAC) to determine dose-dependent effects.

Methods: Alcohol's effects on smooth pursuit and saccadic eye movements at 0.06% and 0.10% BAC were examined whilst recording alcohol levels by real-time measurements using a high precision breath analyzer. Oculomotor performance was recorded from 25 subjects by electronystagmography comprising measurements of smooth pursuit gain, saccade velocity, saccade accuracy and two novel parameters further describing oculomotor performance.

Results: Alcohol deteriorated accuracy of smooth pursuit movements (p<0.001) and saccadic velocities (p<0.01) at 0.06% BAC. At 0.10% BAC, smooth pursuit gains (p<0.01), saccade accuracies and saccade latencies (p<0.01) were also affected. The ratio between saccade velocity and saccade amplitude decreased significantly under alcohol intoxication (p<0.01). Self-perceptions of drunkenness correlated well with changes in smooth pursuit accuracy, but poorly with other oculomotor measures.

Conclusions: Several of the smooth pursuit and saccade functions were altered dose-dependently by alcohol and small changes in BAC substantially changed the effects observed. Additionally, alcohol altered the relationship between saccade velocity and saccade amplitude, diminishing the capacity for saccades to reach high peak velocities.

Significance: The alcohol-induced oculomotor deficits, which were found already at 0.06% BAC by our more sensitive analysis methods, may have safety implications for tasks that rely on visual motor control and visual feedback.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / blood
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / complications*
  • Alcohols / blood*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ocular Motility Disorders / blood*
  • Ocular Motility Disorders / etiology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Alcohols