The voices in your head are not real

Recently, someone named Ryan commented this

 

(Not sure if the soundcloud embedded link is working with the editor I use. If it does not, use this link.)

I knew I wasn’t completely crazy because of this audio track. I felt what I could not hear. It’s specifically in contradiction with your article. It’s not for children.

That was in response to what is unfortunately the most popular post on this blog, one that I wrote a while ago about the way meth voices start with pareidolia.

I don’t know if Ryan and Spectre Inspector, who posted the clip to soundcloud, are one and the same, but the latter seems pretty far gone. (Edit: It is the same person.) His comments are mostly incoherent ramblings and he seems obsessed with some girl who looks “identical” to a girl from his delusions, and at one point he describes someone he heard singing – “I could not find the source, as best I could tell it came from the closet.”

Rather than writing it all over again… my reply to Ryan was this:

I don’t know what you think you heard, but thank you for making my point. This is exactly the kind of white noise, similar to loud wind and rain, that lends to you hearing voices when you’re on meth. Finding meaning in the meaningless when it is noise is like seeing rabbits (or jesus or whatever) in clouds.

It works similarly to the type of radio scanners and white noise generators used in so called ghost boxes (or spirit boxes). They (the deluded who believe in that) also have videos, and unless they add subtitles and you “hear” the same as other people thanks to the power of suggestion, no two people will ever hear the same voices.

So tell me, do you hear the same “voices” every time you listen to it?
I suspect not – rather the white noise creates a foundation, an audio “platform” on which you build your hallucinatory soundscape.

Thanks again. This is a perfect example of how meth voices start with pareidolia. But beware, because if you use meth long enough, you won’t need it any more. Eventually you’ll hear voices all the time.

I thought my argument was quite clear. Anyway, the Merriam-Webster definition for pareidolia is the following:

Definition of pareidolia. :the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. The scientific explanation for some people is pareidolia, or the human ability to see shapes or make pictures out of randomness. Think of the Rorschach inkblot test.

It’s worth adding that pareidolia can be auditory as well as visual. (Mentioned in this RationalWiki article.)

My original post described how the voices started for me, when I was high on meth and paranoid, after I had already been using a substantial amount daily for a couple of years. It started with auditory pareidolia, in that when there was a lot of ambient noise, such as rain, wind, a loud train that I was travelling on, and similar sounds, I’d hear faint sounds that appeared to be voices in the background. This progressed for me and after a few months, the voices became clear. Eventually I’d hear them all the time, without any noise required to stimulate my brain into “hearing” those patterns and finding meaning in the meaningless.

That was the entire point of the post! … that the voices start that way. I didn’t know that people out there actually sit around listening to white noise and intentionally search for meaning in the meaningless. I didn’t! And that is exactly what EVP is… People deluding themselves into “hearing” voices in white noise. It isn’t clear whether those people are simply extremist believers, psychotic, or under the influence of drugs like meth, but it is clear that whatever they think they hear is not real.

It saddens me that so many people have commented on that post, to say that the voices are real, and written details of the various delusions they have built up around the voices they “hear”. How come all your delusions are not exactly the same, lunatics? Huh huh huh???

For fuck’s sake people, if you hear voices that nobody else can hear, it is not logical to assume that you are special somehow and that there is meaning in those voices. Instead, logic tells you that something is going wrong in your brain, something causing you to hear voices that aren’t really there.

When that happened to me, it became frighteningly obvious that methamphetamine was doing serious harm to my brain. It became important to make a plan to stop using meth. And fortunately for me, the voices stopped as soon as I was clean for about two days. (I didn’t get sobriety right straight away, but every time I quit, that’s what happened.)

I’m not qualified to give advice to anyone who hears voices without using meth, but I can say that whatever you hear is not real. If you hear voices, it means that something is going wrong in your brain. Finding meaning in those voices is a path to psychosis, assuming you’re not psychotic already. The appropriate thing to do is to get help. An inappropriate thing to do is to go to the blog of someone who tries very hard to explain how dangerous those hallucinations are and how they start, and claiming that the voices are real. They are not. I’m always tempted to delete such comments, but maybe they do serve a purpose – they demonstrate how dangerous drugs like meth can be, as they damage your brain, and that damage might be permanent if you don’t do the sensible thing and try to get help when you realize that you’re hearing voices in your head. I can’t fucking believe I even have to explain this. It’s really quite simple: If you are hearing voices in your head, you have a problem.

I don’t know what else to say really… Is there any way I can get through to people like Ryan? Convince him that he needs help? If you reach the point where you are so convinced that the voices you hear are real, that you place a device in the closet to record them, and upload the tracks of nothing but static and background noise to the internet, maybe you’re lost… lost somewhere in your own head; lost in your delusions. Maybe there isn’t always a way back, not for all of us. And that’s sad. Despite my dark humour (using words like “lunatics” and so on), Ryan is not so different to me. He’s not stupid. He just followed the path his brain took him, his brain that has evolved like all of ours to recognize patterns and sometimes get it wrong. I knew several meth addicts who thought the voices were real, and some of them didn’t even know that they heard voices. Don’t be like Ryan. Get help before you lose your mind.

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Meth-induced voices in your head start with pareidolia

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.