I Can Hear Things That Scare Me

Reader’s Question

I can hear things that scare me. I can’t understand them. They’re just whispers when it’s quiet. My dad can hear them too. It’s stronger for him.

I know I’m not mental but it scares me. I read the characteristics of schizophrenic disorders and it doesn’t match up. Please help.

Psychologist’s Reply

You are describing auditory hallucinations — noises, voices, and other hearing experiences that are preceived to be coming from outside your head — not just your inner thoughts. These hallucinations or “voices” are felt to be created by increased levels of a brain chemical called Dopamine. Auditory hallucinations often begin as whispers or mumbling that is difficult to understand. As Dopamine levels continue to rise, the auditory hallucinations become more frequent, clearer, and even louder. The high level of Dopamine that causes the hallucinations also creates other symptoms such as suspiciousness, paranoia, agitation, and a sense that others are plotting to harm you. You may begin to experience “ideas of reference” — feeling that routine activities in your environment are directly related to you — as when feeling that strangers talking on a cell phone are talking or calling about you.

Auditory hallucinations are a very serious symptom. They are found in several medical and psychiatric conditions such as:

  • As you mentioned, auditory hallucinations are commonly found in Schizophrenia and other types of psychosis. If your Father also has auditory hallucinations, this may be the cause of your hallucinations. If this is true, we would expect your father to have problems with paranoia, suspiciousness, and other symptoms linked to increased Dopamine levels.
  • Some medications that are used for medical conditions can produce hallucinations, even some antidepressant medications. If you recently began taking other medications, this may be a side effect.
  • The use of street drugs, especially cocaine, speed, meth, and other psychostimulants can produce auditory hallucinations.
  • Neurological disorders can produce auditory hallucinations. Certain types of epilepsy can produce a seizure that includes a hallucination — even a “gustatory” hallucination which is a hallucination of taste.

I would recommend a psychiatric consultation and examination. Without treatment, the hallucinations can increase in type, frequency and loudness. They may eventually become tormenting and even curse or threaten you. If no additional psychiatric symptoms are noted in examination, the psychiatrist will likely refer you for a medical and/or neurological evaluation.

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