A hallucination is a false perception that may seem compellingly real to the person who is hallucinating. Visual and auditory hallucinations are the most common variety of hallucinations.
Hallucinations can affect any of the senses. For example, a person might see someone or something that is not actually present or hear voices that do not actually exist. While hallucinations can have a wide variety of content, they frequently involve negative or frightening stimuli.
There are five types of hallucinations, categorized by which of the five senses they affect:
- An auditory hallucination is the experience of hearing something in the absence of an actual stimulus. This is the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis. Auditory hallucinations are typically experienced as voices that are distinct from an individual’s thoughts. Command auditory hallucinations are voices that tell an individual to perform some action.
- A visual hallucination occurs when an individual sees something that is not really there. Common visual hallucinations include shadows, flashes of light, or insects.
- Tactile hallucinations are those that affect a person’s sense of touch. Feeling something crawling on the skin, when nothing is actually there, is an example of a tactile hallucination.
- An olfactory hallucination affects an individual’s sense of smell. An individual having an olfactory hallucination may experience the smell as coming from their environment or from their own body.
- Gustatory hallucinations affect the sense of taste. A person who has gustatory hallucinations may experience an odd taste from the things they eat or drink, or they may notice a taste in the absence of an actual stimulus.
What Causes Hallucinations?
In some cases, hallucinations can be transient experiences that are a part of grief or trauma. A grieving widower, for example, might think he hears his wife’s voice for a few weeks after her death. These hallucinations typically go away on their own and are not normally indicative of mental illness or otherwise a cause for concern. Substance abuse can also cause hallucinations both as a result of the high and when a person is going through withdrawal from the substance. Hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, ketamine, and mushrooms are particularly likely to provoke hallucinations.
Very high fevers, brain tumors, and other health conditions may cause hallucinations. However, chronic hallucinations are typically associated with mental illness. Schizophrenia is especially likely to induce hallucinations, but other conditions involving psychotic episodes can also cause hallucinations. Psychosis may have a genetic component and can also be induced by substance abuse and brain damage. There is some evidence that early childhood trauma and abuse can contribute to the later development of psychotic conditions.
Is There Treatment for Hallucinations?
The course of treatment depends upon the cause of the hallucination. Treatment usually begins with a physical examination to determine if medical conditions such as high fevers are contributing to the hallucinations. When hallucinations are caused by substance abuse withdrawal, a combination of medical and psychiatric care is often necessary. Hallucinations caused by mental health conditions are typically treated with antipsychotic medications. However, some people who experience hallucinations participate in therapy to explore the origins and implications of their hallucinations and/or learn coping strategies to manage their hallucinations without medication. In some cases, people who are experiencing hallucinations may be resistant to treatment, particularly if they do not recognize their hallucinations as false or if their hallucinations indicate to them that a medical practitioner or therapist is attempting to harm them.
Many people find support through sharing their experiences with a support group, such as the Hearing Voices Network, an organization started in the UK in 1988.
- About HVN. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hearing-voices.org/about-us
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing
- Dryden-Edwards, R. (n.d.). Psychotic disorders. MedicineNet. Retrieved from http://www.medicinenet.com/psychotic_disorders/article.htm
- Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., & Neale, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
- Lava, N. (2016, June 25). What are hallucinations? Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/brain/what-are-hallucinations#1
Last Updated: 11-30-2016
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