Reduced Drinking Leads to Improved Mood
Doctors and researchers know that people affected by alcohol use disorder (alcoholism and/or alcohol abuse) have increased risks for developing psychosis, a highly debilitating mental state centered on an inability to stay anchored in moment-to-moment reality. In turn, people affected by psychosis can fall into drinking patterns that lead to the onset of alcohol use disorder. In a study published in June 2014 in the journal Addiction, researchers from two British universities investigated whether the specific level of alcohol intake in a person with alcohol use disorder has an impact on the psychosis-related symptoms he or she experiences.
Alcohol Use Disorder
The alcohol use disorder diagnosis, established by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, considers the symptoms of alcoholism (a condition characterized by physical dependence-based alcohol dysfunction) on equal footing with the symptoms of alcohol abuse (a condition characterized by non-dependence-based alcohol dysfunction). This point of view reflects the fact that many of the symptoms of both of these classic alcohol-related issues can appear at the same time, rather than appearing only in people affected by alcoholism or only in people affected by alcohol abuse. When identifying the disorder in their patients, doctors count the number of alcoholism and alcohol abuse symptoms. At the low end, the presence of two such symptoms merits a diagnosis of mild alcohol use disorder. The presence of four or five alcoholism/alcohol abuse symptoms merits a diagnosis of moderate alcohol use disorder, while the presence of six or more symptoms merits a diagnosis of severe alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol and Psychosis
The term psychosis does not refer to a distinct illness; instead, it refers to a collection of symptoms that can appear in people affected by a range of mental and physical illnesses. The best-known symptoms of a psychotic state are hallucinations that seriously alter normal sensory perception and delusional thought patterns that trigger persistent, clearly irrational beliefs about one or more aspects of reality. Additional psychosis symptoms can include an inability to think or speak in a coherent manner and patterns of thought that change fairly rapidly between subjects with no logical point of connection.
People with alcohol use disorder can develop a form of psychosis, called alcohol-related psychosis, either during heavy drinking sessions or when alcohol intake declines and the symptoms of withdrawal start to arise. Individuals with a long-term history of serious alcoholism have special risks for two subtypes of alcohol-related psychosis, called alcoholic paranoia and alcoholic hallucinosis. Chronically affected people can also develop a potentially highly damaging, vitamin deficiency-related condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which commonly produces a psychotic mental state in its advanced stages.
Level of Drinking
In the study published in Addiction, researchers from the University of Manchester and King’s College London used an examination of 210 people affected by alcohol use disorder to explore the connection between alcohol intake and the symptoms that appear during psychosis. All of these individuals were seeking specialized treatment for their condition. The researchers assessed the drinking patterns and mental health of the study participants three times in two years and used a statistical analysis to identify any connections between drinking levels and psychosis symptoms. In addition, they looked for other mental health problems that can appear in combination with psychosis, including anxiety disorders and depression. A comparison group of 117 individuals affected by other substance-related issues was also included in the study.
After accounting for all of the variables, the researchers concluded that the amount of alcohol a person with alcohol use disorder consumes does not appear to have an impact on the particular psychosis symptoms he or she experiences. In addition, the level of alcohol intake does not appear to have an impact on the anxiety-related symptoms that can accompany psychosis. However, the researchers concluded, the amount of alcohol consumed by an individual with alcohol use disorder does appear to have some effect on the depression symptoms that can accompany psychosis. Essentially, increased alcohol intake can make such symptoms worse.
Alcohol-related psychosis unrelated to advanced Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome typically fades away when a person with alcohol use disorder establishes a consistent pattern of drinking abstinence. The study’s authors note that the same holds true for the worsening depression symptoms found in psychosis-affected drinkers. When alcohol intake level declines, at least a partial restoration of normal mood commonly occurs.