What is Psychosis?
In medicine, the word “psychosis” refers to a condition or conditions that affect one’s mind, specifically when one experiences some loss of contact with reality. When a person experiences this, it is called a psychotic episode.
During a psychotic episode, an individual’s thoughts and perception of reality become disturbed. This individual will often have a difficult time knowing and acknowledging what is real and not real.
Symptoms of psychosis include the following:
Hallucinations: when a person sees and hears something that is not really that the individual believes to be real.
Delusions: a false belief, specifically a false belief in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is false. A common delusion is typically paranoia – the feeling that someone is out to get, lie to, or harm oneself.
Disassociation or depersonalization: though it is less common, this occurs when an individual feels as though they are detached from their body or the entire world. A person experiencing disassociation/depersonalization may feel they, other people, or the world itself are not real.
Other symptoms can include incoherent speech and, in some cases, inappropriate behavior, depending on the severity of the psychotic episode. Someone who lives with psychosis may also experience feelings of depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, a withdrawal from their social life, a lack of motivation, and have difficulty with overall daily functioning.
How Alcohol-induced Psychosis Occurs
Although it is rare, alcohol-induced psychosis is real, and it can occur in a person due to several alcohol-related reasons. As one might suspect, alcohol-induced psychosis can occur when one is severely intoxicated. This is due to alcohol’s effect on the brain. When drinking, alcohol blocks signals between brain cells, which is why the well-known symptoms of intoxication occur.
In blocking these signals, a person becomes more impulsive, slurs their speech, has poor memory and impaired motor skills. This occurs simply because a person’s brain is not functioning at its usual capacity. This massive effect alcohol can have on the brain can lead to hallucinations, especially when ingesting alcohol in dangerous quantities over extended periods.
However, alcohol-induced psychosis can also occur due to a lack of alcohol in one’s system. When one becomes addicted to alcohol, the overuse of this substance changes the brain. In response to the signals alcohol blocks, the brain adapts and begins overstimulating neurotransmitters to send the signals through. This can present several issues when one decides to quit drinking and pursue a life of sobriety.
When one is in withdrawal, the adapted brain continues to overstimulate the neurotransmitters. Doing so can cause a great deal of pain in the individual and potentially lead to psychosis and psychotic episodes in some individuals.
Who is at Risk for Alcohol-induced Psychosis?
Sadly, there are several causes and factors that play into the psychosis of any kind. While it can occur as a result of alcohol abuse, it is still a rare occurrence.
Other psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, are much more common and can often cause what one perceives as alcohol-induced psychosis. To have an alcohol-induced psychotic disorder, that individual has to have done years of unsafe, heavy, and consistent drinking.
Even then, it takes an experienced physician to determine if alcohol was the cause of one’s psychosis. These professionals must consider several other variables in cases of psychosis, such as family history, medications one might be taking, and physical health issues such as hyperthyroidism.
Fortunately for these physicians, researchers have narrowed down a few characteristics which can help distinguish alcohol-induced psychosis from other disorders like schizophrenia.
The characteristics associated with alcohol-induced psychosis include:
- Later onset of psychosis
- Higher levels of symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Fewer negative symptoms (than schizophrenia)
- Better insight and judgment (than in those with schizophrenia)
- Less functional impairment
In examining these qualities, physicians may be able to gain a clearer understanding if one is experiencing alcohol-induced psychosis or psychosis of another kind.
Treatment for Alcohol-induced Psychosis
Although alcohol-induced psychosis can be alarming, the solution is simple: sobriety. If one eliminates alcohol from their life, they will no longer be affected by it or go into any psychotic episodes produced by alcohol.
But, while this solution is simple, it does not mean it is easy. Recovery takes time, treatment, and an abundance of support.
Fortunately, many readily available treatment programs and centers can tailor a program to one’s needs, including those with an alcohol-induced psychotic disorder.
For anyone with alcohol addiction, detoxification is the first step to recovery. Detoxifying one’s system occurs naturally and purges the body of the abused substance; however, it is painful and potentially dangerous when psychosis is involved.
The process should be done at an inpatient facility or treatment center and under the supervision of medical professionals only. This is especially true for anyone who has alcohol-induced psychosis; the withdrawals from alcohol may cause a psychotic episode during the detoxifying process.
Fortunately, doctors and nurses can then provide care for an individual, using medications to ease pain and discomfort. For those who may experience a psychotic episode while detoxifying, the medical team’s presence keeps one from harming themselves or others as the body begins to adjust to life in recovery.
Help is Here for Alcoholism and Alcohol-induced Psychosis
Despite how rare it is, alcohol-induced psychosis can have extremely detrimental effects on one’s health and life in general. Psychosis includes some alarming effects, including hallucinations, delusions, and even disassociation.
Since alcohol, especially alcohol ingested in large quantities over extended periods, is so toxic to the brain, it can change it. By rewiring the brain, one can experience psychotic episodes either due to extreme intoxication or withdrawal. However, through sobriety, psychotic episodes caused by alcohol can no longer occur.
Like with alcoholism, committing to treatment and sobriety will effectively better one’s health and stop this form of psychosis.
If you or a loved one have an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or even alcohol-induced psychosis, there is hope. While the path to sobriety is not easy, it is possible with the right help.