Blurry tail lightsA stupor is a state of decreased cognitive functioning, sensory capacity, and awareness during which a person is still conscious, but only marginally so.

What is a Stupor?
In colloquial usage, the term stupor is sometimes used to refer to people who are in extremely intoxicated states due to alcohol or drugs and who are unable to function normally. However, unless there is brain damage, these people return to normal states when the mind-altering substance is out of their system. In the medical usage of the term, more specific criteria are assessed. Someone in a stupor may exhibit the following behaviors or conditions:

  • Appear exhausted or sleepy, responding only to a few forms of sensory stimulation
  • Show little or no cognitive function
  • Make no attempt at communication and demonstrate no emotional behavior
  • Appear rigid
  • Demonstrate decreased consciousness despite being able to follow objects visually

A stupor can sometimes be confused with a state of catatonia, which sometimes occurs in people with schizophrenia.

What Causes Stupors?
Stupors do not just occur on their own; they are caused by underlying medical issues or mental health conditions. Medical conditions that interfere with brain functioning, such as poisoning, brain tumors, brain infections, and severe vitamin deficiencies can induce a stupor. Severe mental illness can also cause stupor-like states. People with severe clinical depression and schizophrenia may enter into a stupor.

How Are Stupors Treated?
Because stupors are caused by another health condition, treatment focuses on uncovering and treating the cause. Doctors may administer IV antibiotics or fluids to treat infections and nutritional deficits, or conduct an MRI to check for lesions on the brain. When mental illness causes a stupor, psychoactive drugs are almost always necessary to help a patient improve enough to engage in psychotherapy and other coping strategies.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.

Last Updated: 08-26-2015

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