I’ve never written about this topic on this blog, although it was a frequent subject on my old blog. Maybe it’s time…
This subject is fascinating to me now, though it wasn’t always that way. In active addiction it was scary. It was something that I lived with for a few years, but what I find most interesting is how it started.
Firstly, you need to know what pareidoloia is. It’s defined as seeing patterns where none exist, and while that explains it technically, it doesn’t really make it clear what the psychological phenomenon actually is. Visual pareidolia is when we think we see shapes like faces in inanimate objects, like Jesus on a piece of toast, or a face on Mars.
But pareidolia is also when we think we hear voices or recognisable sounds through white noise. An example of the less well known auditory pareidolia is when you’re taking a shower or hear really loud rain falling on your roof, and you think you hear voices or your phone ringing through the noise. That was how my meth voices started. At first it was just ordinary pareidolia, where there was loud rain or wind and I thought I heard voices, but would realize immediately that it was my imagination.
But then something seemed to go wrong in my brain. Fragments of sound that sounded like voices evolved into much more. As months went by, it would happen more frequently, and any background noise, even noises that were not noticeable to most people, would trigger it. So what started out sounding vaguely like voices, after a few months became voices of people that I knew speaking unintelligible words. (So it was like hearing a conversation from another room, one just out of earshot and not heard clearly.) Then as time went by, it became actual words and sentences that I could make out.
Eventually, and note that this happened with everyday use of crystal meth for a couple of years, there didn’t have to be any white noise to trigger the voices. Eventually I heard voices all the time, and they took on a different nature. They would sound just like real voices, coming from different directions and distance, so the sensation was enough to trick my brain into believing that I really heard the voices with my ears. They became voices that mocked me, voices that ridiculed me, voices of imaginary observers to a mind that became increasingly paranoid and deluded. (So it became much like a persecution complex, or paranoid schizophrenia.) At one stage I heard people talking about me at work, saying terrible things about me. I heard them through the walls. I heard them even when I was alone. Eventually I isolated myself from the outside world and everything in my life was affected as I retreated into my own delusional world of suffering and pain.
Meth-induced voices in your head take you to a bad place, a real living hell on Earth. And many who go there don’t return. They end up permanently psychotic. I’ll probably revisit this topic and write about how it felt to live with those voices and the inevitable delusion, but today’s post is mostly about how they start.
I find it interesting to know that those voices do start with auditory pareidolia, which is something we all experience. Of course, if you’re a meth addict and you start to experience voices, it’s probably a great time to stop using. (But you won’t, I know. Yet you need to recognize that when this happens, you can no longer try to convince yourself that you aren’t an addict. When it reaches this point, you’re a long way past crossing a line from user to addict. You need to recognize that you have a serious problem, one that is affecting not only your life but those of all involved in it.) Once the voices progress to the point where you hear them all the time, they don’t stop as long as you continue using. Even if you are clean for a long time and then relapse, the voices return in a few days, and then stick around as long as you use. At least that’s how it was for me.
Update: This article about apophenia (the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena), which is of course closely related to pareidolia, lists high levels of dopamine as a possible cause. Of course drugs like meth, and to a lesser extent cocaine and crack cocaine, cause tremendously high levels of dopamine, considerably higher than the levels that occur naturally. And all of those drugs cause voices in the heads of long-term users. Apparently high levels of dopamine might also cause belief in the paranormal, and EVP, among other things. (I’d considered mentioning EVP here anyway.)
I find this very interesting, in that it could mean that hearing voices is simply an expected side-effect of prolonged drug use. Further, I noticed many meth addicts who tended to believe in black magic and possession. Even when I was in rehab years ago, some residents there became convinced that a schizophrenic resident (who talked to himself and spoke in gibberish that they thought were “demonic tongues”) was possessed. No amount of attempting to reason with them would convince them otherwise. So beware, voices in the head and apophenia leading to an irrational belief in the paranormal (as well as possibly in God in recovery) may well just be a side-effect of the high levels of dopamine as a result of frequent prolonged drug use. And it may be permanent.
Some of my most annoying Facebook “friends” are people I became acquainted with in rehab, who share Christian nonsense followed by “type Amen” all the time. I can’t bring myself to unfriend them somehow. The most annoying proponent of the sharing Jesus movement is a girl I remember from rehab who believed that she needed to eat sand. There was even a patch of sand set aside especially for her in the garden. (My greatest challenge in rehab was to refrain from pissing in her sand patch.) So ironically, some who hang on so desperately to Jesus in recovery may, in my opinion, do so simply because their brains are fried from all the drugs. Fortunately I’m not one of them. I guess I’m just lucky.