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What Is the Difference Between Delusions and Hallucinations?

Understanding the similarities and differences between delusions vs. hallucinations can help you get the right type of care for yourself or a loved one.

What Are Delusions and Hallucinations?

To appreciate the similarities and differences between delusions vs. hallucinations, it can be helpful to first explore some of the more common types of each symptom.

What Is a Delusion?

A delusion is a belief that a person clings to rigidly, even if there is no credible evidence to support the belief, it can be easily disproved, or it clearly has no basis in reality.

The following are examples of some of the more common types of delusions:

  • Persecutory delusions: Also sometimes referred to as paranoid delusions, these can include believing that you are being followed, spied on, or targeted for harm by someone or some organization.
  • Delusional jealousy: An unwavering belief that your spouse or partner is cheating on you.
  • Delusions of grandiosity: Believing that you have a special talent, secret knowledge, or magical power. 
  • Erotomanic delusions: Believing that a prominent person (often a celebrity, and typically someone that you’ve never met) is in love with you.
  • Thought control delusions: These involve the belief that your thoughts, feelings, and/or actions are being secretly controlled by someone else.
  • Thought broadcasting delusions: Believing that other people can read your mind, or that you are able to project your thoughts telepathically.
  • Delusions of reference: These can include believing that you are being sent secret coded messages via television shows, films, radio broadcasts, or other mass media.

What Is a Hallucination?

A hallucination occurs when someone perceives something that doesn’t actually exist. Hallucinations can affect all five senses:

  • Auditory hallucinations: These involve hearing voices or sounds. A person who has auditory hallucinations may believe that the sounds are coming from inside their own head or from somewhere else.
  • Visual hallucinations: Examples of visual hallucinations can include seeing light patterns, objects, or even people who aren’t really there.
  • Tactile hallucinations: These involve the sense of touch. A common tactile hallucination is that sense that bugs are crawling over or underneath your skin.
  • Olfactory hallucinations: This type of hallucination causes people to detect smells that are not present.
  • Gustatory hallucinations: These can include either distorted or “phantom” tastes.

Auditory and visual hallucinations are by far the most common of the five types of hallucinations listed here.

Causes of Delusions vs. Hallucinations

People may experience delusions and hallucinations for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Mental illnesses
  • Medical conditions
  • Neurological disorders
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Substance abuse
  • Prescription medications

Examples of mental health concerns that have been associated with delusions and/or hallucinations include:

Medical and neurological conditions that have been linked with delusions and hallucinations include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Brain lesions and tumors
  • Epilepsy
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Charles Bonnet syndrome

The list of recreational substances that can cause a person to experience hallucinations or delusions includes:

  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • Mescaline
  • Ayahuasca
  • Psilocybin (shrooms or magic mushrooms)
  • 3,4-methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy, or molly)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP or angel dust)
  • Dextromethorphan (DXM)

Alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana abuse can also induce psychosis in certain circumstances. Also, hallucinations and delusions can occur during withdrawal from certain substances, especially among people who have been engaging in heavy, long-term drug abuse.

Similarities and Differences Between Delusions vs. Hallucinations

As noted in the previous section, one similarity between delusions vs. hallucinations is that they can both result from a variety of influences, including mental and physical health concerns, injuries, substance abuse, and withdrawal.

Other similarities between delusions vs. hallucinations:

  • Both involve false or distorted realities.
  • Both are widely misunderstood experiences.
  • Both can expose a person to scorn, stigma, and misplaced fear.

The primary difference between a delusion vs. a hallucination is that a delusion involves a suspicion or a belief while a hallucination involves one of the five senses. 

Treatment Options for Delusions vs. Hallucinations

Anyone who has been experiencing delusions and/or hallucinations should be assessed by a qualified healthcare professional. To effectively treat someone whose life has been disrupted by either or both of these conditions, it is important to determine the underlying cause.  

Once the likely cause has been identified, treatment may involve medication, therapy, and education.

On the medication front, various antipsychotics have proved to be effective at reducing or eliminating hallucinations and/or delusions among people who have developed these symptoms as a result of certain mental illnesses or medical conditions. Examples of beneficial antipsychotics include risperidone, aripiprazole, and clozapine.  

The decision about which medication and which dosage level is right for each person should be based on a variety of personal factors, and may involve a bit of trial and error. 

The therapeutic and educational components of treatment for delusions and hallucinations can help people develop skills for managing symptoms that aren’t alleviated by medication. 

Versions of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are often incorporated into treatment for delusions and hallucinations. Family therapy can also be valuable, as it can empower loved ones to provide the most meaningful forms of support.

Find Treatment for Delusions or Hallucinations in Atlanta

If you or someone that you care about has been experiencing delusions or hallucinations, Peachtree Wellness Solutions is here to help. Our mental health treatment center offers multiple levels of personalized care for adults in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. Our team can assess the full scope of your needs (or those of your loved one), then provide the customized care that will promote improved health and enhanced quality of life.

To learn more about our programs and services, or to schedule a free assessment for yourself or your loved one, please visit our Admissions page or call our center today.