People who engage in regular excessive drinking and have trouble stopping or controlling their alcohol use likely have alcohol use disorder (AUD), otherwise known as alcoholism, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) notes.
The organization mentions that a national survey found that 14.1 million adults over age 18 had AUD in 2019, and 414,000 adolescents (aged 12-17) had AUD. Individuals with AUD are potentially at risk of developing alcohol-induced psychosis. This type of psychosis can also occur with intoxication and during alcohol withdrawal. Let’s take a deeper look into what this condition is and how it can adversely affect you.
Heavy Drinking and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Regular heavy drinking may result in harmful effects on your entire system. Other than the most often occurring effects, such as vehicle accidents, the potentiality of violence, and alcohol poisoning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also states that alcohol abuse can lead to:
- Heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure
- Cancer of the mouth, liver, colon, rectum, throat, voice box, and breast
- Weakened immune system, which can increase the chances of becoming sick
- Social issues with families, friends, jobs, schools
- Increase mental health conditions, which include depression and anxiety
- Alcohol use disorder (AUD) (alcoholism)
The NIAAA relays that an estimated 95,000 people succumb from alcohol-related causes every year. It is the third leading cause of death. AUD was one of the leading causes of deaths involving alcohol from 2011-2015. AUD can also result in alcohol-induced psychosis.
Psychosis is a group of symptoms that occur together over a period of time. The most common and prominent symptoms are delusions and hallucinations, which cause you to lose touch with reality. You won’t be able to tell the difference between what is real and not. Psychosis can affect the way you feel, think, and behave. It can result in memory problems and disorientation. But what can cause it to occur?
Causes of Alcohol-Induced Psychosis
As mentioned previously, chronic alcohol abuse can cause psychosis. Other causes of it are:
- Thiamine (B1) deficiency
- Alcohol withdrawal (early or late-stage)
- Abusing other drugs
- Early alcohol use, especially during teen years
Symptoms of Alcohol-Induced Psychosis
Alcohol-induced psychosis symptoms may fall into three categories:
- Disorganized or jumbled thoughts
- Delusions: False beliefs that often involve misinterpretation of experiences or perceptions, such as thinking you have special powers
- Hallucinations: Seeing, hearing, sensing, smelling, or tasting things that are not actually there.
- Lack of interest in usual activities
- Trouble carrying on or track of conversations
- Difficulty remembering things
- Not interested in maintaining hygiene
- Becoming upset or angry for no particular reason
- Inappropriate behavior, like silliness at the wrong time
- Lethargic or not very active
- Completely unaware of your surrounding environment
These symptoms can occur during or shortly after heavy alcohol use, as indicated in this medical report. Individuals who experience alcohol-induced psychosis might potentially experience it again shortly thereafter.
What Are the Types of Alcohol-Induced Psychosis?
There are different types of alcohol-induced psychosis to know. These are:
Most often occurs during alcohol withdrawal and involves sudden and severe mental or nervous system changes. Symptoms to be aware of are:
- Irritability or agitation
- Body tremors
- Delirium – sudden and severe confusion
- Deep sleep longer for more than a day
- Rapid mood changes
- Sudden bursts of energy
- Sensitivity to sound, light, and touch
- Sleepiness, stupor, fatigue
- Seizures, which can occur without any other symptoms
Auditory hallucinations experienced either during or after a period of heavy drinking. Most often, this condition occurs with acoustic verbal hallucinations, delusions, or mood disturbances, per an Industrial Psychiatry Journal medical report. This condition is more common among those who chronically abuse alcohol and tends to look like schizophrenia.
This condition is a brain disorder syndrome resulting from a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency, which is common in people with AUD. WKS are two different stages of the same condition and not separate conditions. To understand this syndrome better:
Wernicke encephalopathy: Symptoms include loss of mental activity and confusion that might progress to coma and death, loss of muscle coordination that can cause leg tremor, vision issues like abnormal eye movement, double vision, and alcohol withdrawal
Korsakoff syndrome: Symptoms include loss of memory, which can be severe, unable to form new memories, seeing or hearing things no one else can, and making up stories.
Typically, a person with WKS will also have AUD. The best option in this scenario is that both are treated at the same time. WKS can get worse over time if it is not treated or if the individual’s alcohol addiction is not treated.
Effects of Alcohol-Induced Psychosis
Psychosis can be upsetting for many people who experience it and for those who witness it. The effects of alcohol-induced psychosis can be distressing, dangerous, and possibly deadly. Any symptoms should be tended to immediately, and emergency help should be hailed as soon as possible to prevent a fatality.
Differences Between Alcohol-Induced Psychosis and Schizophrenia
It’s possible that some healthcare providers mistake alcohol-induced psychosis for schizophrenia. After all, some of the symptoms are the same: hallucinations, delusions, and fear. Also, the provider may not know the individual has AUD and has experienced psychosis related to heavy use of alcohol.
However, there are distinct differences between the two:
- Alcohol-induced psychosis usually occurs at a later age than schizophrenia.
- Symptoms of depression and anxiety are more intense but are not negative.
- Symptoms of alcohol-induced psychosis typically do not disrupt everyday activities.
- Hallucinations and delusions occur during and after episodes of heavy drinking.
- Psychosis from alcohol abuse is usually short-lived but may return if the person continues drinking.
- Schizophrenia is a disorder characterized by many symptoms, one of which is psychotic symptoms.
The schizophrenia diagnosis criteria include experiencing at least two of the below symptoms for at least six months, and at least one of the symptoms must be one of the first three, as Verywell Health notes:
- Disorganized speech, which can be incoherence or frequent derailment
- Catatonic behavior or grossly disorganized behavior
- Negative symptoms, which can be diminished emotional expression
In summary, a diagnosis of alcohol-induced psychosis will note there are no negative symptoms, disorganized thinking, and behavior.
A diagnosis for schizophrenia will note the negative symptoms, disorganized thinking and behavior.
Is Alcohol-Induced Psychosis Permanent?
Most often, the psychosis that heavy alcohol abuse or withdrawal causes usually resolves itself when alcohol use is stopped for several weeks. While the individual may not be drinking, it is wise to monitor the person for any adverse or serious withdrawal symptoms and get immediate medical help if needed. The safest place to undergo withdrawal from heavy alcohol abuse is at a licensed and accredited detox or addiction treatment center, where the individual’s medical status is monitored 24/7.
Treatment for Alcohol-Induced Psychosis
Alcohol abuse can wreak havoc in your life. When you drink regularly and heavily, the probability of experiencing alcohol-induced psychosis is real. Fortunately, you can receive help for it at Arete Recovery.
Treatment begins with medically monitored detox as you begin and endure withdrawal from alcohol. Life-endangering withdrawal symptoms can occur, which may include vomiting, confusion, high blood pressure, racing heart, hallucinations, delusions, and seizures. Additionally, our psychiatric staff is available to help you deal with the mental symptoms of alcohol abuse.
Inpatient treatment follows detox, where you will spend time away from your everyday distractions and triggers and learn new skills and techniques in managing any mental health disorder and your alcohol use disorder. As you reside on-site, your safety and privacy are paramount while you work hard in finding the root cause for your AUD and progress to overcoming the addiction.
Arete Recovery employs proven, evidence-based therapies known to be successful in treating people with AUD and its complications, as well as mental health disorders, which can be the root cause of addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy lessons can help identify incorrect thinking that results in poor behavior choices. Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on keeping you centered in the present moment and works toward propelling you to be assertive while maintaining self-respect. Arete also provides educational sessions, group therapies, and relapse education.
Outpatient care allows you to live at home and still attend therapy sessions on-site. The goal of addiction treatment is to ensure you have a strong, steady, and long-term process to manage any trigger or issue that could cause you to drink heavily again.
Addiction is thought to be a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain. What you learn in alcohol-induced psychosis treatment can be applied every day to bolster your chances of recovery.