(1) Alcoholic psychosis. There are several alcoholic psychoses. They are
pathological intoxication, delirium tremens, and acute alcoholic hallucinosis. These
conditions are classified as psychoses because there is a temporary loss of contact with
reality. Individuals who experience these conditions may have reactions which last only
a short period of time. During such time, these individuals are confused, excited, and
(a) Pathological intoxication. This condition, an acute reaction, occurs
in people with a low alcohol tolerance. The condition can also occur in someone whose
alcohol tolerance is low at the moment from such causes as exhaustion, emotional
stress, or other conditions. For these individuals, consuming even moderate amounts
of alcohol can cause the person to suddenly become disoriented and go into a
homicidal rage. Following the confused, disoriented state, the person usually falls into a
deep sleep after which he may not remember anything that happened during the time
he was confused.
(b) Delirium tremens. Otherwise known as the DTs, delirium tremens
is an acute mental illness, a psychotic reaction sometimes caused by withdrawal from
alcohol. A prolonged alcoholic binge, a head injury, or an infection may also trigger
delirium tremens. Today, complications from delirium tremens can be treated with
drugs, but half a century ago the death rate from DTs was approximately 10%. Signs
and symptoms of this condition include the following:
1 Feeling of disorientation of time and place. Patient may believe
he is in a church or jail, will not recognize old friends, but will believe hospital attendants
are old friends.
2 Vivid hallucinations. An individual may think he sees small, fast-
moving animals like snakes, rats, and roaches.
3 Acute fear. A person may see these small animals change in
form, size, or color in terrifying ways.
4 Tremors. Marked tremors of hands, tongue, and lips. Hands,
tongue, and lips shake uncontrollably and strongly.
(c) Acute alcoholic hallucinosis. In this condition, the patient appears
normal, but he hears a voice. Initially, there is one voice making simple statements.
Eventually, there are several voices issuing statements which are criticizing or
reproaching the person. These voices attack the person's most private thoughts, list
and discuss the thoughts, and propose punishments. This condition may last several
days or several weeks during which time the patient is depressed but otherwise
relatively normal. The psychotic symptoms experienced by the person seem to be
triggered by alcohol, but he may have a broad range of inappropriate behavior not part
of the acute alcoholic hallucinosis.