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Does Alcohol Cause Schizophrenia? Exploring Alcohol-Induced Psychosis and Co-Occurring Disorders

Written by Thomas Christiansen

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Trisha Sippel, PhD

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Updated 08/15/2020

People with schizophrenia often experience hallucinations or delusions. Learn what role, if any, alcohol use has in causing schizophrenia.

Chronic and heavy alcohol use can be detrimental to a person’s health. In rare cases, a person who continually consumes large amounts of alcohol may develop psychosis related to their alcohol use. This development occurs when a person has hallucinations or delusions associated with alcohol use or following alcohol use. Hallucinations are when a person sees or hears something that is not there. Delusions occur when a person remembers something that didn’t happen, but they believe it to be true. The hallucinations associated with alcohol use most often occur as the person hearing voices in their head.

Related Topic: Am I an Alcoholic

Some people may refer to alcohol-induced psychosis as alcohol-induced schizophrenia since the symptoms of hearing voices in their head are similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia. However, schizophrenia and alcohol-induced psychosis are separate disorders. Even so, alcohol use disorders and schizophrenia can co-occur in the same person, as one disorder may lead to the development of the other.

Does Alcohol Cause Schizophrenia?

Can alcohol abuse cause schizophrenia? This question is difficult to answer because the symptoms of alcohol-induced psychosis resemble those of schizophrenia. However, according to the criteria to diagnose schizophrenia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V), the symptoms of schizophrenia can not be due to the use of a substance such as drugs or alcohol. Likewise, alcohol-induced psychosis is associated with heavy alcohol use and occurs in people with no prior history of mental health issues. In other words, alcohol-induced psychosis and schizophrenia are two different disorders.

Despite their separate diagnosis, alcohol can have an impact on schizophrenia. Alcohol impacts neurotransmitters and signaling in the brain, which is what causes a person to feel drunk. When alcohol is used chronically, it can have detrimental effects on the brain, which is thought to be the reason for a person developing alcohol-induced psychosis. Few studies have been able to link alcohol with directly causing schizophrenia. However, a study in Denmark found that those who had an alcohol use disorder were 3.38 times more likely to develop schizophrenia later in life.

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Alcohol-Induced Psychosis and Schizophrenia Symptoms

Alcohol-induced psychosis and schizophrenia share similar symptoms, including experiencing hallucinations or delusions. In the case of alcohol-induced psychosis, these symptoms are brought on by heavy alcohol use, whereas a person with schizophrenia will experience them in the absence of influential substances. Alcohol-induced psychosis can have additional symptoms such as changes in mood or behavior, high blood pressure, increased heart rate or fever. In some cases, auditory hallucinations can last even after alcohol use is stopped.

People who have schizophrenia may also experience confused speech, a stupor-like state or lack of motivation, all in the absence of alcohol. In order to be officially diagnosed by a medical professional, they will need to experience these symptoms for six months or more. In patients with schizophrenia, alcohol can affect their disorder, oftentimes making it worse by intensifying the symptoms of schizophrenia. Additionally, people with schizophrenia are more likely to abuse alcohol and display violent behavior while drinking alcohol.

Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders

When a person has a dual diagnosis of drug addiction and mental illness, it is important that they get the help they need to address both disorders. Treating one disorder without addressing the other can lead to a slow recovery and increase the chances of experiencing a setback into substance use or improper treatment of the mental health issue. Treatment for co-occurring disorders requires an individualized treatment plan.

The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health is ready to help you address your alcohol use disorder along with any co-occurring mental health disorders. You deserve professional treatment, call The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today.

View Sources

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” June 2016. Accessed September 7. 2019.

Nielsen, S.M.; Toftdahl, N.G.; Nordentoft, M.; Hjorthøj, C. “Association between alcohol, cannabis, and other illicit substance abuse and risk of developing schizophrenia: a nationwide population based register study.” Psychological Medicine, July 2017. Accessed September 7. 2019.

Bhat, Pookala S.; Ryali, VSSR; Srivastava, Kalpana; Kumar, Shashi R.; Prakash, Jyoti; Singal, Ankit. “Alcoholic hallucinosis.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, December 2012. Accessed September 5, 2019.

Drake, Robert E.; Mueser, Kim T. “Co-Occurring Alcohol Use  Disorder and Schizophrenia.” Alcohol Research and Health, 2002. Accessed September 7, 2019.

Khokhar, Jibran Y.; Dwiel, Lucas; Henricks, Angela; Doucette, Wilder T.; Green, Alan I. “The Link Between Schizophrenia and Substance Use Disorder: A Unifying Hypothesis.” Schizophrenia Research, April 2018. Accessed September 7, 2019.

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