What Is Hallucination?

Hallucinations are an experience that appears to be real, but are actually created in the mind. Hallucinations can include hearing, seeing, smelling, or touching things that aren’t there. They can be mild or extremely vivid and are thought to be located in external and tangible reality.

What Causes Hallucinations?

There are several different causes for hallucinations including mental illness, physical illness, or the effects of drugs or alcohol. Common causes of hallucinations include:

  • Mental illness such as schizophrenia or dementia
  • Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Use of illegal drugs or alcohol
  • Drug or alcohol withdrawal
  • Certain prescription medications

Other causes of hallucinations can include social isolation, high fevers, deafness, blindness, and vision problems, and terminal illnesses such as HIV, cancer, and liver or kidney failure.

Types of Hallucinations

There are different types of hallucinations a person might experience. These can include:

Auditory Hallucinations: These are some of the most common hallucinations and can include hearing voices or sounds. This can include hearing people talk to you and hearing things like footsteps or knocking on the door.

Visual Hallucinations: This is when a person sees things that are not there. This can include objects, people, light, or patterns.

Tactile Hallucinations: These are feelings of movement or touch on a person’s body. They can include things like feeling that bugs are crawling on the skin or that someone has touched or brushed up against you.

Olfactory Hallucinations: These involve a person’s sense of smell. This can include smelling an unpleasant odour or thinking you smell your or someone else’s body. It can also include scents a person finds pleasing, like flowers or perfume.

Gustatory Hallucinations: This involves a person’s sense of taste. These can be hallucinations of tasting something unpleasant or pleasing. Hallucinating a metallic taste in one’s mouth is common amongst people with epilepsy.


Treatment for Hallucinations

Treatment for hallucinations will depend on what is causing them. A person experiencing hallucinations could need medical tests to determine the cause. Once determined, a doctor will treat hallucinations accordingly. Common treatment for hallucinations includes:

  • Medication: The type of medication a person receives is dependent upon what is causing the hallucinations. Medication used to treat hallucinations caused Parkinson’s disease and dementia will differ from medication used to treat those caused by diseases such as HIV or cancer. Those experiencing hallucinations due to severe alcohol or drug withdrawal are also given medications, typically one’s that help calm the nervous system.
  • Psychotherapy: Therapy is a common treatment for hallucinations that can be used alone or in conjunction with medication. Talking with a therapist or counsellor can help an individual identify the underlying cause of their hallucinations and work to resolve any mental issues that could contribute.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a popular treatment for those experiencing hallucinations. It can help them identify the thoughts, triggers, and behaviours leading to their hallucinatory state and help them to implement different coping strategies.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hallucinations

Can anxiety cause hallucinations?

While it is rare for someone with anxiety to hallucinate, it is a possible symptom. Mild hallucinations are more common amongst people with anxiety, which can lead to additional fear about their mental state.

What causes visual hallucinations?

Visual hallucinations can be caused by lack of sleep, depression, illegal drug use, epilepsy, psychosis, and certain medications.

What happens to people when they think they hear voices?

A common thought when people hear voices is that they’re going crazy. The stress that accompanies hearing voices and coping with this stress has shown to cause the most distress amongst those who hear voices and other sounds.

Why does alcohol withdrawal sometimes cause hallucinations?

Hallucinations are a symptom of severe alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens. It can involve auditory and visual hallucinations and is typically only seen in those with a severe addiction to alcohol.

External Links

What Causes Hallucinations, reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA, HealthLine

Hallucinations and hearing voices, NHS Choices

What Are Hallucinations, WebMD

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