Can Alcohol Induce Psychosis?

The harms of alcohol abuse are, for the most part, well documented. However, new research has drawn a link between alcohol and the development of psychosis. What are the risks of developing alcohol-related psychosis, and can it be treated?

Alcohol-related psychosis (ARP) is an umbrella term that covers a number of different psychotic conditions resulting from alcohol abuse. It can occur in both the short and long-term. At its core, this condition refers to delusions or hallucinations that occur as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.

The Risks of Binge Drinking

There are many other risks that accompany alcohol misuse, both physical and mental. Binge drinking alone can lead to serious health risks. According to government definitions, any instance where a male drinks more than eight units of alcohol in a single day is classed as binge drinking. The number is six per day for women.

Some of the potential risks of binge drinking include:

  • reduced inhibitions, leading to more aggressive or criminal behaviour
  • unprotected sex, leading to more sexually transmitted diseases
  • alcohol poisoning
  • loss of consciousness

A person suffering from alcohol poisoning as a result of binge drinking could fall into a coma. It is imperative that medical help is sought immediately for someone who has lost consciousness from drinking.

The Long-term Health Risks of Alcohol Abuse

The long-term risks of alcohol abuse are no less serious. The damage that alcohol misuse can have on the body over time can be debilitating or even fatal. Alcohol causes organ damage when misused. This increases the risk of a whole host of diseases and conditions. In fact, the only substance which contributes more greatly to the global burden of disease is tobacco.

Most notable among the risks is alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD). The liver helps flush toxins from the blood and can regenerate when damaged. Alcohol kills liver cells and prolonged alcohol abuse can permanently damage the liver. Some of the symptoms of ARLD include alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. Unfortunately, many symptoms of ARLD won’t show up until there is already severe damage to the liver.

Other serious health risks from alcohol abuse are:

  • heart disease
  • bowel cancer
  • liver cancer
  • strokes
  • mouth cancer
  • pancreatitis
  • breast cancer

What Is Psychosis?

The harms related to alcohol abuse are not limited to the body. Prolonged alcohol misuse can have serious impacts on a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing. In order for us to make sense of alcohol-induced psychosis, we must first understand what we mean by psychosis.

Psychosis is a condition resulting in an impaired or distorted perception of reality. Psychotic episodes involve two symptoms, hallucinations and delusions.

Hallucinations are when a person perceives or experiences something which is not real or which does not occur outside of their own mind. All five senses (touch, taste, smell, hearing, and taste) can be affected. People having hallucinations tend to see or hear things which are not really there.

Delusions are fixed and false beliefs, particular to that individual. They do not change when confronted with incontrovertible proof that they are false. Delusions tend to be clearly untrue, if not bizarre. They are often characterised by paranoid concerns over conspiracy to harm them.

What Is Alcohol-related Psychosis?

Alcohol is a neurotoxin, and so it can cause a broad and complicated array of problems in the brain if chronically abused.

Initially thought to be a rare consequence of alcohol abuse, new research indicates that alcohol-related psychosis may be more common than we thought. According to a study published this year by the National Institute of Health, “Psychosis associated with alcohol can occur with acute intoxication, alcohol withdrawal, as well as in patients with chronic alcohol use disorder.”

This means that the risk of experiencing ARP may be broader than expected, but also that there may be more than one cause. In fact, there are several hypotheses regarding the process in the brain that generates hallucinations in ARP. The psychosis is considered generally more extreme than what would be seen during typical intoxication or withdrawal.

Certain warning signs include a lack of emotional expression, known as a flat affect, as well as the patient responding to internal stimuli such as noises nobody else can hear.

Alcohol-related psychosis is believed to appear and recede in line with alcohol consumption. This means that acute alcoholism can lead to severe symptoms, while abstaining from drinking can result in the psychosis diminishing. Other ways ARP differs from schizophrenia are that depression and anxiety symptoms are expressed to a greater degree.

What Are the Treatment Options for Alcohol-Related Psychosis?

As mentioned previously, the core symptoms themselves may abate when the alcohol abuse stops. This means that abstinence is the best way to treat ARP. Patients can get help with this by visiting an addiction centre for alcohol detox. Without support in abstaining from alcohol abuse, the chances of symptoms recurring are high.

A patient experiencing psychosis as a result of intoxication or withdrawal should be treated as a medical emergency. In these cases, doctors may use medication such as haloperidol. The heightened depression that comes with ARP also means that patients are at a greater risk of suicide. Hospitals and treatment centres will take this into account when supporting patients.

Patients entering a treatment facility may also receive help in dealing with alcohol dependency and addiction. By tackling the root causes of the substance abuse, there is a much better chance of the patient staying sober and regaining their lucidity.

A combined approach of detox, medication, and therapy may be the best approach (alcohol rehabilitation). Treatment will not only help rid them of the hallucinations and delusions but also overcome the addiction causing them.