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  • Alcoholic Hallucinosis | Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment Options

    Published on July 21, 2021
    Alcoholic Hallucinosis | Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment Options

    Alcoholic hallucinosis is a side effect of heavy alcohol abuse. It causes people to see, hear, and feel sensations that are not actually there. Hallucinations may come with other alcohol-related health problems, which can make diagnosing hallucinosis difficult.

    Alcohol dependence, heavy alcohol consumption, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and other forms of alcohol use disorder are linked to alcohol hallucinations. How alcohol use causes hallucinations is not yet clear.

    Treating alcohol hallucinosis likely involves treating the surrounding alcohol use disorder. Helping patients detox and quit drinking is likely to reduce symptoms of alcoholic psychosis.

    Prevalence Of Alcoholic Hallucinosis

    Various studies report alcoholic psychosis/hallucinosis happening in about 0.6% to 4% of patients who have alcohol dependence. While psychosis may be rare, alcohol can have many serious effects on your physical and mental health.

    Causes Of Alcoholic Hallucinosis

    The etiology (main cause) of alcoholic hallucinations is still being studied. Some specific case reports have linked hallucinations to unusual dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain.

    Ethanol, the main ingredient of alcohol, can affect the brain in many ways, so more research on the link between alcohol and hallucinations may be needed.

    Symptoms Of Alcohol Hallucinosis

    Auditory hallucinations commonly come with alcohol hallucinosis, where people hear sounds and voices that are not there. Tactile and visual hallucinations also happen, though less often than auditory hallucinations. Unique symptoms of alcoholic hallucinosis include:

    • flat affect (not expressing emotions)
    • mood disturbances
    • abnormalities in behavior (depressed mood, shying away from social activities)
    • delusions

    Psychotic Symptoms Vs. Schizophrenia

    The psychotic symptoms of alcohol hallucinosis can be similar to schizophrenia. Doctors may be unable to tell the difference in extreme cases, especially if the patient’s history of alcohol use is unclear. Many early cases had diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia.

    Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

    If left untreated, alcohol hallucinosis is linked to a higher risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a degenerative brain condition caused by a lack of thiamine (vitamin B1). Deteriorating mental health has also been reported, causing depression and suicidal ideation.

    Treatment Options For Alcohol Hallucinosis

    Alcohol hallucinosis is relatively rare, and studies done on potential treatments are not common. Data from relevant case series point to a handful of possible treatment methods.


    Alcohol hallucinosis often comes with other severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Medications can reduce withdrawal symptoms like seizures and trouble breathing. Doctors prescribing medicines may ask about your history of substance use, to avoid potential drug interactions.

    Benzodiazepines like lorazepam and diazepam can cause sedation and reduce seizures, which are often seen in delirium tremens patients. They reduce activity in the brain by binding to GABA receptors, which are thought to play a role in alcohol hallucinosis as well.

    Anticonvulsants and antipsychotic medications (also known as neuroleptics) can reduce side effects that come with hallucinations. Opioids are likely not used to treat pain because of the potential side effects that can come from mixing alcohol and opioids.

    Managing Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

    Many professionals see alcohol psychosis as a symptom of a larger alcohol use disorder (AUD). By successfully treating the larger disorder, psychotic symptoms and hallucinations can go away over time.

    Alcohol hallucinosis can come with other severe health problems caused by alcohol, such as delirium tremens (also known as alcohol withdrawal delirium). Treating AUD as an all-encompassing problem can help with these health problems as well.

    Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

    Treatment of alcohol use disorder often has many methods. Detoxing while treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms is usually the first step, and patients with severe withdrawal are often given medications. 

    After a detox, people are likely given therapy and linked with support groups.

    Like other forms of substance abuse, alcohol abuse can be treated. A proper treatment program can help you get through the difficult withdrawal period. You will be put in the care of medical professionals, where your recovery is their top priority.

    To find a treatment for alcohol abuse that works for you or your loved ones, contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
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