The sudden onset of visual hallucinations following a change in habits might be indicative of an alcohol addiction, a Hualien physician said, after treating a man in his 50s diagnosed with the condition.
The man, surnamed Huang (黃), went to Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital after experiencing hallucinations while recovering from the flu, psychiatrist Shen Yu-chih (沈裕智) said.
After speaking with Huang and running various tests, doctors determined that Huang had experienced the effects of alcohol withdrawal, which had manifested as hallucinations when he stopped drinking while taking flu medication.
Huang often used rice wine in his cooking and over time had started drinking wine with his meals, eventually leading to an addiction, Shen said.
Huang’s family were concerned that he had a mental illness when he began having hallucinations, but mental illnesses generally do not develop so rapidly, Shen said, adding that most people with mental conditions who hallucinate have auditory hallucinations, rather than experiencing changes of vision.
Alcohol acts as a depressant in the central nervous system and might slow the brain’s communication with the rest of the body, Shen said, adding that if people who habitually drink alcohol suddenly stop, their nervous system might experience a rebound effect.
“Basically, there are withdrawal symptoms. The whole brain becomes excited with activity and there is the possibility of hallucinations,” Shen said.
Modern treatments for addiction can include psychotherapy and medication, he said.
Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital uses three types of medication for alcoholism, including one that neutralizes the effects of alcohol so that it has as much as an effect on the patient as water, Shen said.
The second type makes the patient feel nauseated at the scent of alcohol, while the third neutralizes alcohol’s effects on the central ner-vous system, he added.
However, medication can only be part of an overall treatment program for addiction patients, Shen said.
People with addictions tend to lack something in their lives that they are trying to make up for, he said, adding that successful treatment helps people fill the holes in their lives with something constructive and beneficial.
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