Alcohol-Induced Psychosis: What Is It, Signs & How to Treat

September 8, 2022

Table of Contents

While rare, alcohol-induced psychosis is a condition that causes a heavy drinker to experience symptoms similar to schizophrenia or psychosis. It can be very serious and warrants the attention of a medical professional immediately. 

What Is Alcohol-Induced Psychosis?

Alcohol-induced psychosis describes a state some people who struggle with chronic alcohol use disorder may experience where a person experiences a break from reality caused by the use of alcohol.[1] It generally presents after heavy alcohol use for a long period of time. The condition is not fully understood, but it is likely linked to neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.

Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol-Induced Psychosis

Alcohol-induced psychosis is primarily characterized by auditory hallucinations.[2] A person may also experience delusions and disturbances in their mood. A person may also experience visual hallucinations and even the sensation that someone or something is touching them.

An individual experiencing this type of psychosis is at higher risk of suicide and self-harm. They should be monitored for their own safety. If you are experiencing this condition, it’s important to alert someone you trust or a mental health professional about these thoughts, so they can help you address them in a healthy way.

In many ways, this condition mimics schizophrenia: A patient may experience racing thoughts, hear voices, see things that are not actually there, or endorse delusions about things happening that aren’t real.

In others, it is often easiest to notice alcohol-induced psychosis by radical changes to their mood and demeanor, as well as individuals talking to themselves as if someone else is with them. They may also have trouble sleeping and seem distracted.[2]

Treatment For Alcoholic Psychosis

Research on alcohol-induced psychosis is limited, and more needs to be done to determine what treatments are most effective. The first step is usually to stop the alcohol. This should be done in a carefully monitored setting, usually in the hospital.

Others may need antipsychotic medication in order to stop their hallucinations. What might cause this difference is again not fully understood. For some people, even antipsychotic medication appears ineffective, and their hallucinations may continue despite treatment.[3]

Any new episode of psychosis in a person drinking heavily should prompt friends or loved ones to seek urgent medical care. The person should go to the emergency room, and may need to be admitted to the hospital for monitoring and medications to help ease their symptoms. 

Alcohol-Induced Psychosis FAQs

Can alcohol cause psychosis?

Yes, Alcohol-induced psychosis is rare but known to happen particularly in patients who are drinking heavily.

What are the signs of alcoholic psychosis?

Concerning signs to look for in yourself or in others include mood changes, delusions, hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there), anxiety, and talking to oneself. 

How long can alcohol-induced psychosis last?

Alcohol-induced psychosis can last a few days to even indefinitely, although the prognosis is good for patients who abstain from alcohol. If a person cannot abstain from alcohol, they may experience recurrent psychosis episodes, which can be very dangerous, as patients are at increased risk of self harm or harm to others. 

What Should I Do If I or Someone I Know Is Experiencing Psychosis after drinking heavily?

This may be a sign of a new onset of alcohol induced psychosis, and should be evaluated immediately by a medical professional. If you have concerns about yourself or a loved one, you should call 911 and present to your nearest emergency room for assistance.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. Alcohol-Related Psychosis. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459134/. July 2022. Accessed August 2022.
  2. Alcoholic Hallucinosis. Industrial Psychiatry Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3830167/. December 2012. Accessed August 2022.
  3. Treatment of Alcohol-Induced Psychotic Disorder (Alcoholic Hallucinosis)—A Systematic Review. Alcohol and Alcoholism. https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/53/3/259/4627701. May 2018. Accessed August 2022.

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