Alcohol Withdrawal Hallucinations – How To Prevent Delirium Tremens

alcohol withdrawal hallucinations

Alcohol withdrawal hallucinations can occur when people with severe alcohol dependence quit suddenly. Typically, hallucinations occur at around 12-24 hours after the last drink, or several days later as part of a collection of severe withdrawal symptoms known as Delirium Tremens (DTs).

Scientists cannot fully explain the exact mechanisms that prompt hallucinations. These terrifying events likely result from massive alterations in neurotransmitter levels and brain receptor sites caused by prolonged alcohol exposure.

In this article, we will review some common symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal, including hallucinations. I will also let you in on an experience I once had with alcohol withdrawal hallucinations.

Finally, we will cover available treatments and medications for severe alcohol addiction. We will conclude with a game plan of sorts for the alcohol dependent person who wants to escape from the hellish nightmare of addiction.

Can you hallucinate when you stop drinking?

The simple answer is yes, many people with severe alcohol dependence hallucinate as part of their withdrawal syndrome. But as we will see, there are ways to prevent this terrifying symptom from occurring with proper medical care and longer term self-care.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, listed from relatively minor to severe, include:

  • A general sense of unease
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Shakiness
  • Depression
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Sense of impending doom
  • Hypersensitive reflex responses
  • High fever
  • Full body twitching
  • Brain zaps
  • Auditory, visual, or tactile hallucinations that occur 12-24 hours after last drink
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs) – 3-4 days after last drink; confusion, hallucinations, and/or seizures that can last up to a week (untreated)

If you are dependent on alcohol and have not experienced hallucinations, don’t consider yourself lucky just yet.

Thanks to a brain phenomenon called kindling, you can increase your probability of experiencing alcohol withdrawal hallucinations by continuing to drink – and, more precisely, by experiencing repeated episodes of alcohol withdrawal.

In animal models, repeated episodes of alcohol withdrawal lead to an increase in the frequency, duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms. The most severe symptoms are seizures, which can be fatal. However, modern medications like benzodiazepines have made alcohol detox much safer than in the past.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium

alcohol withdrawal hallucinations

As you can see in the chart above, hallucinations can occur anywhere in the 0-6 day period after quitting drinking. People who are cutting down on alcohol can experience alcohol withdrawal hallucinations while still drinking.

For reasons that are not entirely understood, hallucinations caused by alcohol withdrawal tend to conform to similar themes:

  • Hearing angry and incoherent voices
  • Feeling an ominous, dark presence
  • In severe cases, experiencing nonexistent insects or rats chewing on one’s legs

Hallucinations that begin within the first day without alcohol tend to be largely auditory, and the individual tends to be aware that these voices or sounds are not real. The person may experience alternating phases of hallucinations followed by periods of clearer thinking.

Hallucinations that cannot be distinguished from reality – such as the insects or rats scenario above – tend to be symptoms of DTs that occur days after alcohol cessation. These hallucinations seem very real for people who experience them.

What does delirium tremens look like?

I once experienced alcohol withdrawal hallucinations, and possibly delirium tremens, in my own apartment.

A few months before I quit drinking forever, I unwisely decided to quit cold turkey after a massive week-long binge. At the time, I knew nothing about anything I write about on this website.

Come on Chris, man up and get it together – you’ve got to go in for work on Monday. Tough it out.

After spending the entire weekend paralyzed by confusion and anhedonia (“pleasure deafness”) on my couch, I decided to transfer to my bed. Since it had been a few days since I had drank any alcohol, I knew that I would not sleep.

But I did not know that my perception of reality was about to become totally skewed:

  • I broke into a cold sweat
  • I began involuntarily twitching
  • I heard muttering, cackling, and screaming that I knew could not be real
  • I saw dark figures leaping between doorways
  • I felt brain zaps
  • I felt violent sensations on the surface of my skin
  • I felt an indescribably dark presence and a sense of impending of doom

alcohol withdrawal hallucinations

To this day, this episode of alcohol withdrawal hallucinations was the most bizarre and terrifying experience I have ever had. It is quite possible that I also had a seizure, although my memory of the event is understandably hazy.

I created Fit Recovery in large part because there are too many dry medical accounts of alcohol withdrawal on the Internet, written by people who have never experienced what they are writing about.

When I had hallucinations, what I should have done was see a doctor immediately and at the very least, begin a tapered regimen of benzodiazepines. Modern medicine can prevent DT’s, including hallucinations and seizures! Don’t suffer needlessly.

I also wish I’d known a variety of effective strategies to dominate alcohol addiction and stay quit for good!

How to treat alcohol withdrawal hallucinations

alcohol withdrawal hallucinations

If a person is experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal and no medical treatment is available, sometimes the only immediate solution is to drink just enough alcohol to ease symptoms. Of course, this is a temporary solution that kicks the can down the road. But it is better than risking alcohol withdrawal hallucinations, which can sometimes be a precursor to seizures.

With that said, I will repeat what I said earlier…

If you’re experiencing alcohol withdrawal hallucinations, get to a doctor immediately.

Most hospitals in America will use benzodiazepines to prevent or reduce symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal. This process can take up to a week, and doses will be determined by a doctor based on individual characteristics.

You can read more about the use of benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal in these articles:

In recent years, doctors with expertise in alcohol addiction treatment have also used gabapentin and Topamax to successfully reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Magnesium is also known to reduce the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. (source) A select few treatment centers use megadoses of magnesium, along with other nutrients like vitamin C, to detoxify the body and reduce the severity of alcohol withdrawal.

What happens mentally when you stop drinking?

alcohol withdrawal hallucinations

The experience I described above is the closest thing to hell that I’ve ever experienced.

It just felt dark, and if you’ve been through the same thing, you know exactly what I mean.

The good news is that you can conquer the beast and come back a changed person.

After you detox, conquering alcohol addiction should be your number one priority for a long time to come. Due to kindling, your likelihood of experiencing hallucinations if you drink again rises – your slate is not wiped clean.

Fortunately for you, it’s possible to leave alcohol addiction – and alcohol withdrawal hallucinations – in the past.

You can start by proactively repairing your body and brain.

A great way to get started is to take Calm Support, which will begin the process of repair that your depleted body so desperately needs.

If you take the time to bookmark them, the following articles will prove very useful for you:

Conclusion

Alcohol withdrawal hallucinations can and should be prevented with proper self-care. Ideally, it’s best to prevent them by tackling alcohol problems long before they reach this level.

On the bright side, many people who write to me each day have been able to quit drinking despite having experienced alcohol withdrawal hallucinations and even DTs.

With enough internal resolve, anyone can conquer alcohol addiction forever.

If you have any questions about alcohol withdrawal hallucinations, please leave them in the comment box below.

Hierarchy of Alcohol Recovery

Please review this post!

WANT TO DOMINATE ALCOHOL AND LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE?

CHRIS SCOTT

Chris Scott founded Fit Recovery in 2014 to help people from around the world dominate alcohol dependence and rebuild their lives from scratch. A former investment banker, he recovered from alcohol dependence using cutting-edge methods that integrate nutrition, physiology, and behavioral change. Today, Chris is an Alcohol Recovery Coach and the creator of an online course called Total Alcohol Recovery 2.0.

DR. REBECA ERIKSEN

Dr. Rebeca Eriksen is the Nutritional Consultant for Fit Recovery. She has a PhD in Nutritional Genetics from Imperial College London, and over ten years of clinical experience designing custom nutritional repair regimens for patients recovering from alcohol addiction. In addition to her work at the exclusive Executive Health clinic in Marbella, Spain, she helps to keep Fit Recovery up to date with emerging research.

COMMENT DISCLAIMER

The information we provide while responding to comments is not intended to provide and does not constitute medical, legal, or other professional advice. The responses to comments on fitrecovery.com are designed to support, not replace, medical or psychiatric treatment. Please seek professional care if you believe you may have a condition.

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Glory
Glory
24 days ago

I have been alcohol free for five years. I’m thinking about 6. Quit smoking and went through severe withdrawal without hospital or a Dr. No meds. I suffer now from tinnitis possible hearing loss. The voices did not stop however. Very irrational and unbelievable things that I can’t begin to talk about. Has anyone suffered and recovered but still has issues? I know now it’s not crazy after reading some posts on it. Thank you if anyone can help shed light on this because it’s been such a long battle. Not the alcohol as much as me feeling I lost… Read more »

Last edited 24 days ago by Glory
Ashley
Ashley
1 year ago

Chris, How long with your hallucinations last? And did you only get them at night? For the past two nights I’ve been having hallucinations, and they only happen at night… But they are playing on my biggest fear that I’ve had as a child. Someone breaking into my house. I heard voices and shadows outside the window, I would just go sit in front of the door the entire night and look at all the windows and just hear them laughing about how to get into the house. Worst night of my life.

val tring
val tring
1 year ago

72 hour. binge.. first time I’ve ever experienced a hallucination .The writing was seemed to be literally appearing on the wall . It was in a typed format and looked no different as you would type on pc. as if someone had written out a whole page and the delete key was constantly pushed down. everything was being deleted I couldn’t make sense of the sentences .the words were going to rapidly. went to A+E . think it’s time to read the writing as a sign.

Chris Scott
1 year ago
Reply to  val tring

Scary stuff Val, you can conquer this though! Nutrient Repair is a great place to start and it’s ignored by far too many recovery programs.

Ashley
Ashley
1 year ago
Reply to  val tring

If I may ask, how long did your hallucinations last?

Jack
Jack
3 years ago

Just went thru my 2nd and hopefully last ever round of withdraw symptoms. It’s literally hell. The only that got me through this time was spending a lot of time on the phone with friends as a reality check. It’s 1000 times worse if you are stuck alone or have nobody to talk to about what is happening. Your brain is trying to kill you and nobody else can see/hear what you do, Thngs like electric fans and birds that are repetitive are the worst, I had a whole 8 hour night long dream sequence that my fan was my… Read more »

Chris Scott
3 years ago
Reply to  Jack

That sounds about right Jack – glad you’re past it. The articles on this site can help you moving forward. Best of luck!

Rebeca hernandez
Rebeca hernandez
3 years ago

My brother says it’s the devil has anyone else experienced this or is this a different matter

Kathy
Kathy
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Scott

I have experienced this…I am going on two weeks alcohol free…went to a clinic to detox….my demons ay times tried to come as an angel of light….but they did scare me at one point in time when a deep voices one said GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE OR I WILL BLOW IT UP…they were giving me a sense of pulling my hair slightly…they threatened to kill my husband when he got home…I simply asked them, “What are you going to do, pull his hair” They threatened to kill me…I told them don’t threaten me with heaven…also the rest of my… Read more »

Shell
Shell
3 years ago

Certaintly feels that way. The voices know too much about you and then make up things that never happened. I would seek a doctor and definitely a higher power and a support group. Let those resources help.

Spencer
Spencer
2 years ago
Reply to  Shell

So much this…it really is crazy how personal they get. I’ve just decided to call them ‘projections’ because they feel like the projections from Inception, except they know EVERYTHING about you, your biggest fears, greatest triumphs, and they get DARK with it. It’s astounding reading how similar other people’s WD nightmares are to mine. It’s actually comforting reading other people’s accounts. I just thought my dream friends were turning into complete assholes. 😉

THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

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