What Causes Hallucinations in Alcoholics?

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What Causes Hallucinations in Alcoholics?

Hallucinations in alcoholics occur due to a disruption in the senses caused by excessive or long term use of alcohol then sudden withdrawal from it. Hallucinations can be auditory, i.e., hearing sounds that aren't there, or visual, i.e., seeing objects that don't exist.

In other cases, hallucinations can be attached to a person's sense of smell, taste or touch and can also be known as delirium tremens.

Hallucinations are commonly associated with someone withdrawing from alcohol but can also occur during heavy alcohol use.

However, there is a scientific explanation for these symptoms and as scary as they may appear the person is not ‘losing their mind’ and these hallucinations will pass through time.

Hallucinations that persist or arrive at times other than when having drunk alcohol may signal another health problem and medical guidance is encouraged.

If hallucinations are brought about due to alcohol use the person can be incredibly scared and confused.

If helping someone overcoming alcohol addiction that is going through hallucinations try to keep the person calm and seek medical guidance if possible.

Abbeycare Detox will stop the person from hallucinating during withdrawal as a specifically tailored detox is administered to ease any physical or mental symptoms associated with ceasing alcohol use.

The cause of hallucinations are varied but usually due to years of alcohol use by those who have become dependent on alcohol.

Alcoholic Hallucinations have a medical term known as Alcoholic Hallucinosis.

During hallucinosis, the person is termed as having an ‘alcohol-induced psychotic episode’ which commonly occurs 12-24 hours after alcohol intake stops. In some cases, these episodes can last for days.

What to expect with alcoholic hallucinations?

  • They are most common in those with an alcohol use disorder
  • They can be Auditory or Visual
  • They can last for brief intervals or up to a few days
  • They may vary in intensity
  • They can be unsettling and scary
  • They generally begin between 12-24 hours after drinking ceases
  • They can be a common side effect of withdrawal
  • They can occur during a heavy intake of alcohol
  • A person’s perception of reality will be altered

What type of hallucinations do alcoholics have?

Alcoholic hallucinations can be auditory. In this case, the person is experiencing what is known as an alcoholic induced-psychotic episode through their hearing.

Or they can be visual and presented as the seeing of objects, things or people that are not there.

Or they may be both auditory and visual at the same time as a person moves in and out of the current episode of psychosis they are experiencing.

In any case, these hallucinations will feel real to the person experiencing them and will vary in length from person to person.

The length or type cannot be pre-determined.

Here is a list of the different types of hallucinations born from the five human senses:

Auditory hallucinations occur through hearing and can be:

  • Accusatory Voices
  • Whispering
  • A person from one's past or present
  • A series of prompts or commands
  • Clicking or tapping sounds

Visual hallucinations occur through sight and can be:

  • The seeing of images or things and objects that don’t exist
  • Flashes of light
  • Of a person who has passed away
  • Transportation into a scene that isn’t real or may have already been experienced

Tactile hallucinations can occur through touch and feel like:

  • Bugs crawling under the skin
  • Like someone is touching you

Olfactory hallucinations can occur through smell and can be:

  • Smelling something that is not there
  • Less common than all of the above

Gustatory hallucinations are through taste and are:

  • The least common of all hallucinations
  • Creates a taste in the mouth without the presence of the food

As can be identified each human sense is capable of experiencing a reaction whilst encountering an alcoholic hallucination with some being more common than others i.e. auditory and visual.

So what is a psychotic episode? Or psychosis?

Psychosis is a period of altered reality where a person may become detached from the real world and experience varying conditions such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Altered speech patterns
  • Disordered thought processes
  • Inappropriate behaviour
  • What causes hallucinations in alcohol withdrawal?

    The causes of hallucinations during alcohol withdrawal may be down to an overuse of alcohol, creating an altered perception, or a chronic long term chemical dependence on alcohol, i.e., the person develops physical and mental withdrawals if they suddenly cease use.

    However, it is usually during a period of withdrawal from alcohol that hallucinations occur.

    Thus, emphasising the importance of seeking appropriate medical and psychosocial care inclusive of a person-centred detox programme.

    To ease the withdrawal symptoms and stop the incidence of hallucinations occurring. 

    Hallucinations or psychosis causes are related to a disruption in the brains normal functioning.

    Alcohol is a depressant drug that alters the brain's ability to function to its optimal ability over time. And withdrawal can cause psychosis.

    Therefore, those with an alcohol-related substance use disorder are more prone to hallucinations during withdrawal as their brain has been affected over time.


    Other triggers to hallucinations may be down to:

    • Sleep deprivation
    • Hunger
    • Illegal drug use
    • Some prescribed medicines
    • Trauma and abuse
    • Physical illness or injury

    Final Thoughts

    Caring for a person encountering hallucinations can be scary and unsettling.

    At Abbeycare, a 28 Day Inpatient Programme has been designed to meet the needs of a person concerned about their drinking or a loved one’s drinking.

    Every care is shown to make the detox process a comfortable one for the person in attendance.

    The stay in Abbeycare’ rehab facility can be short or long term depending on the personal choice and circumstances of those wishing to admit.

    Whatever the length of stay, a carefully considered detox will be administered ceasing any alcohol withdrawal-related hallucinations or seizures from occurring.

    Alcohol hallucinations are, in most cases, brought about by alcohol overuse and what is known as an alcohol-based substance use disorder.

    When sudden withdrawals begin, the disruptions in the brain can cause a psychosis that may present in a variety of ways.

    hallucinations need to be monitored, if you considering an at home alcohol detox, first consult with a professional, call our clinic first. 

    Alcohol hallucinations can also be known as Delirium Tremens both are a form of psychosis which more often than not present as Auditory or Visual disruptions.

     Call us today on our phone number 01603 513 091.

    About the author

    Peter Szczepanski

    Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.