Understanding Alcohol Induced Psychosis

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Psychosis is typically associated with mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. But certain forms of substance abuse can also cause a person to develop these disorienting symptoms. For example, people who drink heavily may be at risk for alcohol-induced psychosis.

Can Alcohol Induce Psychosis?

Experts have not yet determined exactly how alcohol induces a psychotic state in some people, but there is no doubt that it does occur. Some individuals develop this condition while in a state of acute intoxication or after an extended period of heavy drinking, while others experience psychotic symptoms while going through alcohol withdrawal.

A 2015 review from The Netherlands found that about 4% of people who have alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) will experience alcohol-induced psychosis. Within the general population, this review determined that about 0.4% of people will develop psychotic symptoms as a result of drinking alcohol.

The risk of alcohol-induced psychosis appears to be greatest among people who meet the following criteria:

  • Males of working age
  • Became addicted to alcohol at a younger age
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Unemployed or living on a pension
  • Live alone

This review also determined that as many as 30% of people who experience alcohol-induced psychosis will develop schizophrenia or a similar condition later in life.

About Alcohol-Induced Psychosis

Alcohol-induced psychosis is also referred to by several other names, including alcohol psychosis, alcohol-related psychosis, and alcohol hallucinosis. Regardless of which term is used, the experience involves distortions in how a person perceives and interacts with their environment.

Signs & Symptoms

The primary characteristics of alcohol-induced psychosis include hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. These characteristics can manifest in the following ways:

  • Auditory hallucinations, which involve hearing voices or other sounds that are not emanating from an actual source
  • Visual hallucinations, which can include seeing people, objects, or light patterns that do not actually exist
  • Tactile hallucinations, which involve the sense of touch, and can include the sensation that bugs are crawling over (or underneath) your skin
  • Rigidly clinging to beliefs that can be easily disproven or that clearly have no basis in reality (delusions)
  • Suspecting that others – including friends, family members, and caregivers, as well as strangers – are secretly conspiring to harm you

When a person experiences alcohol-induced psychosis while going through withdrawal, this can be a sign of delirium tremens (which is often referred to as the DTs). 

In addition to being extremely disconcerting, the DTs can also be quite dangerous. Experts estimate that, in the absence of proper treatment, as many as 37% of people who develop the DTs would die from this condition. Currently, the actual fatality rate from the DTs is less than 5%.


While clearly a severe outcome, death from the DTs is just one of several dangers that are associated with alcohol-induced psychosis. People who develop psychotic symptoms as a result of alcohol abuse or withdrawal may also incur the following types of harm:

  • Accidental injuries due to distorted perceptions
  • Elevated risk of being victimized due to inability to accurately assess threats
  • Increased likelihood of developing anxiety, depression, or another mental health concern
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Also, as we noted earlier in this post, research indicates that almost one of every three people who have periods of alcohol-induced psychosis will go on to develop schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.

Treatment Available for Alcohol-Induced Psychosis

Treatment for alcohol-induced psychosis usually has two general goals:

  • To keep the person safe and alleviate their psychotic symptoms
  • To help the person end their alcohol abuse

We’ll discuss the second bullet point in greater detail in the next section. For the first one (keeping the person safe and easing their psychosis), benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, or other medications are typically included in treatment. 

Usually, alcohol-induced psychosis is a short-term experience. Once the person no longer has alcohol in their system, the psychotic symptoms that they had developed should subside. Therapy can help a person process their experiences and learn how to manage future urges to abuse alcohol.

How to Prevent Alcohol Psychosis

The best way to prevent alcohol-induced psychosis is to drink only in moderation – or not at all.

For some people, this is not a challenge, but for others it can seem like an impossibility. If you find yourself in the latter category, it may be time to start thinking about seeking help at a reputable addiction treatment center.

If the pain of withdrawal has prevented you from limiting or ending your alcohol use, you may benefit from starting your treatment experience in a detox program. While you’re in detox, you will be under the care of experienced professionals who can protect your health and keep you as comfortable as possible during the withdrawal process.

Once you’ve successfully completed detox, you can transition directly into one of the following programs:

  • Residential treatment
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP)
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP)
  • Outpatient treatment

Some people start with residential care, then step down to a PHP, an IOP, and/or an outpatient program for additional support. Others transfer from detox into one of the three outpatient options. There’s no single path to recovery that’s right for everyone. What’s most important is exploring all of your options and finding the path that’s right for you.

Contact Renewal About Starting Our Alcohol Misuse Program

You don’t have to wait until you experience alcohol-induced psychosis or develop other severe symptoms before you get help. Needing to “hit rock bottom” before you can benefit from professional care is nothing more than an unfortunately persistent myth.

Renewal Health Group offers a full continuum of personalized services for adults whose lives have been disrupted by the compulsive abuse of alcohol and other drugs. At multiple locations in southern California, our alcohol addiction treatment programs help people complete withdrawal, end their alcohol use, and build a foundation for successful, long-term recovery.

To learn more about how we can help you or someone in your life – or to schedule a free assessment – please visit our Contact page or call us today. We look forward to answering all your questions and helping you determine if Renewal Health Group is the perfect place for you or your loved one.

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