Can Alcohol Cause Psychosis and When Does It Occur?

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on March 29, 2021.

Although many people talk about the term "psychosis" as if it were its own mental health diagnosis, it's better thought of as a state of mind. This means psychosis can exist with other conditions. It can also be brought on by certain behaviors and substances, including alcohol.

Psychosis can be characterized as the inability to distinguish between reality and what's not there. Many people who experience psychosis have trouble making good decisions because their judgments are not based on what's occurring in the real world. Rather, they see through a cloudy lens of jumbled emotions and sensations that distort their thinking.

The use of alcohol can cause psychosis, often referred to as alcohol-induced psychosis. Alcohol and psychosis can lead to anything from auditory and visual hallucinations to lowered brain function and impaired memory. Though only professionals can adequately diagnose alcoholism and psychosis, you should know what signs may indicate the presence of alcohol-induced psychosis.

Top Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Psychosis

Before diving into the main indicators of potential alcohol-induced psychosis, it's important to know psychosis is unique from schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental condition and must be treated differently by a knowledgeable professional. While schizophrenia can coexist with alcohol-promoted psychosis, the terms should not be used interchangeably.

People experiencing alcohol-induced psychosis tend to exhibit a few warning signs:

  • Abrupt mood changes
  • Body tremors
  • Hallucinations and delusional thinking
  • Sensitivity to sounds and lights
  • Unpleasant physical sensations, such as feeling like insects are crawling on the body

Every person reacts uniquely to psychosis. Therefore, any deviations from normal, healthy behaviors may point to alcohol-induced psychosis in those addicted to alcohol.

Types of Alcohol-Induced Psychosis

Alcohol-induced psychosis can be acute or chronic. Acute psychosis happens suddenly as a result of drinking too much alcohol. It comes on very quickly as the body tries to process the alcohol. Once the alcohol passes through the body, the psychosis wanes.

Chronic alcohol-induced psychosis occurs over time, often beginning after a period of drinking. It can last for weeks, usually causing a variety of hallucinations and mood disturbances. To the untrained eye, chronic psychosis can appear to be schizophrenia.

Alcohol Withdrawal and Psychosis

In addition to acute and chronic conditions, alcohol-related psychosis can occasionally stem from withdrawal and detoxification. When someone stops drinking, the body may respond with episodes of psychosis. While the most prevalent psychotic reaction to withdrawal is hallucinations, other physical and mental symptoms such as tremors, mood swings and delusional thinking can accompany alcohol withdrawal psychosis.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is the final variety of alcohol-induced psychosis. WKS occurs when a substance abuser's body becomes consistently deprived of thiamine and vitamin B1. Left untreated, WKS can lead to permanent mental damage or, in extreme cases, death.

However, the effects of WKS can be mitigated or even reversed with proper treatment administered by a team of understanding, knowledgeable recovery professionals.

Successfully Moving Past Alcohol Addiction and Alcohol-Induced Psychosis

Alcohol addiction affects the body and mind in many ways. Because each person responds differently to alcohol, individualized treatment solutions are the best ways for detox specialists to help guide clients toward recovery.

Are you interested in getting help for yourself or a loved one? Contact Diamond House Detox to learn more.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
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