, Volume 212, Issue 1, pp 33-44
Date: 16 Jul 2010

Alcohol impairment of saccadic and smooth pursuit eye movements: impact of risk factors for alcohol dependence

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While persons at risk for alcohol dependence by virtue of heavy drinking patterns or family history (FH) of alcohol use disorders have exhibited differential alcohol responses on a variety of measures, few studies have examined alcohol's effects on eye movements in these subgroups.


The purpose of this study was to (1) conduct a placebo-controlled, dose-ranging study of alcohol's effects on eye movements and (2) examine the impact of these risk factors on oculomotor response to alcohol.


A within-subject, double-blind laboratory study was conducted in N = 138 heavy (HD; n = 78) and light social drinkers (LD; n = 60) with self-reported positive (FH+) or negative (FH−) family history. Subjects participated in three laboratory sessions in which they consumed a beverage containing a high (0.8 g/kg) or low (0.4 g/kg) dose of alcohol or placebo. Smooth pursuit, pro-saccadic, and anti-saccadic eye movements were recorded before and at two intervals after alcohol consumption.


Alcohol significantly impaired smooth pursuit gain and pro- and anti-saccade latency, velocity, and accuracy in a dose and time specific matter. HD and LD showed similar impairment on smooth pursuit gain and anti-saccade measures, but HD were less impaired in pro-saccade latency, velocity, and accuracy. FH+ and FH− subjects were equally impaired in nearly all pro- and anti-saccade measures, but FH+ were less impaired in smooth pursuit gain.


In sum, alcohol produced systematic impairment on oculomotor functioning, even at a non-intoxicating dose. Furthermore, high- and low-risk drinkers may be vulnerable to select performance deficits relative to eye movement task.

Work was performed at the Clinical Addictions Research Laboratory, University of Chicago.