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What Are Alcoholic Hallucinations?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Alcoholic hallucinations refer to the sensory hallucinations experienced by some individuals in the advanced stages of alcohol withdrawal. It is often thought to be the second stage, or phase, of alcohol withdrawal. Doctors typically refer to this as alcoholic hallucinosis. Although the hallucinations themselves are not typically life threatening, an alcoholic dealing with these types of hallucinations should be constantly supervised.

During the first few hours of alcohol withdrawal, alcoholics will typically begin to feel some minor withdrawal symptoms. These can include things such as trembling hands, headaches, and upset stomach. Anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after the last drink was taken, about a quarter of withdrawal sufferers may begin to experience alcoholic hallucinations.

A hallucination is described as a false perception of reality, and these can occur in any of the five senses. An individual dealing with alcoholic hallucinations may feel, hear, see, taste, or smell things that are not actually real. Tactile, auditory, and visual hallucinations are most common during this phase of withdrawal.

Tactile hallucinations are considered to be the most common among those going through withdrawal symptoms after alcohol abuse, as well as withdrawal symptoms from other types of substance abuse. This means that a person will feel a sensation that is not really there. A common example of tactile alcoholic hallucinations is the feeling of bugs crawling on the skin.

Sometimes an alcoholic may even see the bugs crawling on him. This is a type of visual hallucination. Although the bugs are not real, he still sees them and believes they are real. Some alcoholics witnessing these types of hallucinations have even tried remove the bugs by scratching at their skin.

Auditory hallucinations are another common type of alcoholic hallucinations. These occur when an alcoholic begins to hear sounds or voices. Sometimes it will be some harmless, albeit annoying noise, such as constant music. Most other times, however, a person will hear angry, threatening voices.

Since these alcoholic hallucinations seem so real, individuals experiencing them are usually under constant observation. This is done to ensure that they do not harm anyone, including themselves. Alcoholic hallucinations will usually go away suddenly after a few days to a week.

After the hallucinations, a small percentage of alcoholics going through withdrawal may begin to experience more dangerous symptoms of withdrawals. These can include seizures and delirium tremens (DTs), which can occur in a small percentage of people going through withdrawal. Along with being extremely confused, individuals suffering from DTs will usually have more severe hallucinations, extremely high blood pressure, a racing heart, and serious seizures. Death is not completely unheard of if an individual reaches this stage of alcohol withdrawal.

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Discussion Comments

By anon986171 — On Jan 22, 2015

In the first one or two days: Delirium tremens -- DTs. I have experienced this quite a few times with and without medical treatment. They suck. It's very uncomfortable to know that continuing to drink will kill you and this can be deadly too. It's a scary trip. That's why some call it the horrors.

I'm trying to rest in a half sleep state of nightmares and awakened terror with a rapid heart rate and hot and cold sweats. It really is trial by fire, and when you make it across the hellish ordeal you will have earned a new very fragile sobriety. The next few weeks is post acute withdrawal time, with all kinds of feelings and emotions.

It is best then to get into AA and outpatient counseling and not come out for a drink again ever, one day at a time for the rest of your life. Never forget the DTs and be grateful. Don't drink. Go to meetings. Trust God. Clean house. Help others and enjoy your life with your new tools and freedom. You are blessed to survive. You have achieved nirvana

By Ravellu — On Mar 04, 2014

Alcohol withdrawal can typically last anywhere from 2-7 days. The timeline for withdrawal starts 5-10 hours after the last drink with tremors, a.k.a. "the shakes", and some level of anxiety. After 12-24 hours, hallucinations may begin lasting 12-48 hours. The critical time is at around 24 hours after the last drink, when seizures may occur. The dangerous problems for withdrawal can be life threatening and should not be undertaken without proper medical assistance.

By Authordor — On Mar 03, 2014

How long does alcohol withdrawal last?

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