There are four broad categories of intoxicating drugs: depressants, stimulants, narcotics (painkillers), and hallucinogens. Alcohol (ethanol) is classified as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant meaning that it reduces activity in the CNS and eventually can induce effects such as profoundly depressed respiration and low body temperature.
Alcohol does have some stimulating properties, however, due to its ability to increase dopamine in the brain. These effects occur early on after consumption and are transient. Alcohol’s overall action on the brain and body is to sedate and can do so to the point of respiratory arrest and death.
And although alcohol is not technically a hallucinogen, in cases of extreme intoxication or withdrawal, hallucinations as the result of psychosis can and do occur. These are generally not the trippy high and whimsically altered perceptions associated with a true hallucinogen, such as LSD or psilocybin mushrooms, however.
As a product of psychosis, these hallucinations are also hallmarked by confusion and delusions that can be terrifying. If this condition manifests as a result of drinking, the person is extremely ill and poses a danger to himself and others.
What Is Alcohol-Induced Psychotic Disorder?
Hallucinations, delusions, and persistent thoughts induced by severe or chronic alcohol abuse is referred to as alcohol-induced psychotic disorder (AIPD). There are three forms of this type of psychosis derived from alcohol use: acute alcohol poisoning, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and chronic alcohol use disorder. Symptoms usually begin during an episode of drinking or shortly thereafter.
AIPD is a secondary psychosis, induced by a different disorder than primary psychoses such as schizophrenia. This means that the condition is provoked by something outside of the individual, rather than being the result of abnormalities in brain structures that are organic or pre-existing.
Although AIPD is relatively rare, rates of psychosis are higher among those struggling with alcohol dependence—about 4% among those who regularly abuse alcohol. Once a person develops AIPD, the psychotic episode usually persists for between one and six months, although it may subside in just a few days with medical treatment. Suffering severe side effects from psychosis places the person at risk of accidents and self-harm so that the condition can be lethal.
Acute Intoxication AIPD
Called pathologic intoxication, this is a rare diagnosis that occurs after a person consumes a large amount of alcohol in one episode. In most cases of hospitalization related to intoxication-caused psychosis, the condition ends when the body eliminates alcohol from the system. Hospitalization is critical at this point in alcohol abuse, and it is likely that the individual has actually ingested enough alcohol to be at risk of acute alcohol poisoning, which can be deadly.
Signs of acute intoxication AIPD include the following:
- Abnormal aggression
- Prolonged episodes of sleep
- Impaired consciousness
- Temporary hallucinations
- Memory loss
Psychotic Disorders from Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal delirium (AWD), also commonly known as delirium tremens, is a rare disorder caused by detoxing from alcohol, especially when the person stops drinking abruptly after very excessive consumption for a prolonged period. AWD is considered the most severe and risky form of alcohol withdrawal.
Symptoms of AWD include:
- Agitation and irritability
- Chest pain
- Excessive sweating
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid respiration
- Increased startle reflex
- Involuntary muscle contractions
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Mood swings
- Stomach pain
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Involuntary eye movements
Symptoms associated with AWD do not onset immediately after a person stops drinking. Headache, anxiety, insomnia, heart rate changes, and sweating begin within 6-12 hours after the last drink. After 12 hours, the person may start to experience hallucinations, and after 24 hours, seizures can occur.
It is vital to get professional medical help when detoxing from alcohol to avoid AWD. Health providers can use diagnostic criteria to determine how serious one’s experience of alcohol withdrawal may become, including checking for fever, dehydration, and irregular heart rate and conducting a toxicology screening.
Chronic Alcohol Consumption Leading to Psychosis
Excessive, prolonged use of alcohol will alter fundamental structures in the brain, which can, in turn, produce psychotic conditions. Malnutrition caused by drinking instead of eating properly and damage to the digestive tract from alcoholism can cause forms of dementia with related psychotic symptoms.
In people who suffer from chronic alcohol use disorder, there are three basic forms of psychosis:
Hallucinations are typically auditory, but may also manifest as visual or tactile. Rapid mood swings and delusions hallmark the condition, and it may ultimately resemble schizophrenia in presentation. It is unlike delirium tremens and can present in a person who had previously exhibited clear thinking and memory.
This condition is characterized by extreme anxiety, a fear of being watched or followed, and other symptoms associated with paranoia. It is caused by changes in the brain due to drinking too much for too long.
Treatment for Alcoholism
Alcohol is not a hallucinogen and experiencing hallucinations while drinking or after drinking is not normal and is cause for alarm. Such effects indicate a level of psychosis, and suggest that a person has probably been drinking excessively and is in serious danger.
Persons suffering from alcoholism are urged to undergo detox immediately, followed by comprehensive addiction treatment. Harmony Treatment and Wellness offers an integrated approach that includes psychotherapy, counseling, group support, medication-assisted treatment,and more.
We are dedicated to helping people reclaim their lives from alcohol so they can experience long-lasting health and wellness. Contact us today to find out how we can help!