What Can Cause Visual Hallucinations? Identifying Potential Triggers and Treatments

Understanding what can cause visual hallucinations lights the way toward diagnosis and recovery. Because the potential causes of psychosis are diverse, a differential diagnosis is necessary to determine the best treatment options. Ultimately, treatment can be very effective in improving an individual’s life even with a chronic mental illness.

As a private person, Vero kept a lot to herself. She didn’t tell people about the dark thoughts she had throughout her otherwise normal days or how often she would come home from work and cry. But it wasn’t always like that. Sometimes, she would simply get fixated on some thing or some task. And she wouldn’t be able to peel herself away from whatever it was she had set out to do. She might miss work. She might miss sleep. And Vero always kept herself pretty isolated—in part because she felt different, removed, and in part because she didn’t want other people to see just how different.

Once, she found herself on an organizing kick, and she turned three closets inside out. For an entire weekend, she didn’t sleep. Vero sorted papers and other piles. She moved all of her art supplies into one container and labeled it and then changed her mind and started over, moving all the art supplies into another space entirely. This whole process went on for hours without end, and she barely stopped to eat and take care of herself. But she made it into work Monday morning.

Sitting at her desk that day, staring at her computer screen, she started to see the words and letters rearranging themselves. They were spelling out words that scared her. They matched a lot of the familiar dark thoughts that follow her so often. She wanted to look away. Vero felt out of control. She couldn’t hide her distress well enough—not at work. And, for the first time, she had someone reach out with sympathetic questions. This co-worker encouraged Vero to visit a psychiatrist. He even recommended someone he had seen himself in the past.

How much longer might Vero have gone without knowing what was going on under the surface? The clinician was able to determine that she had been suffering from bipolar disorder for much of her adult life. And it had been getting worse. After staying awake for so long in the midst of a manic episode, she had experienced hallucinations as a frightening side effect. Treatment had been available the whole time, but Vero didn’t get connected with help until her symptoms pushed her to the edge of her limits.

What else can cause visual hallucinations? And how can we trace this distressing symptom back to its roots? These questions lead to hope and recovery. Visual hallucinations respond well to treatment once a clinician can determine the cause.

Understanding What Can Cause Visual Hallucinations


It’s difficult to know what is causing visual hallucinations without a differential diagnosis: a professional assessment to determine the source of symptoms when multiple causes may be possible. Vero’s psychotic episode was brought on by severe bipolar disorder. In other cases, hallucinations may be provoked by other serious mental health disorders, by neurological and other medical conditions, or by the use of drugs and alcohol. A clinician can carefully consider someone’s symptoms, current physical condition, medical history, and family history to rule out unlikely causes and to narrow in on the most likely explanation for their psychosis.

Mental Health Disorders That Can Cause Visual Hallucinations


Other Health Conditions and Triggers That Can Cause Visual Hallucinations


  • Abuse of or withdrawal from alcohol and certain drugs, including LSD, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, psilocybin, and more
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Delirium brought on by a range of possible illnesses or substances
  • Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS) in people with ocular conditions, such as blindness, cataracts, macular degeneration, or retinopathy
  • Seizures
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Migraines
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Tumors
  • Sleep disturbances
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Malaria
  • Syphilis
  • Lupus

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The Best Treatment for Visual Hallucinations


As unsettling and disturbing as hallucinations can be, there are accessible treatments that can effectively minimize these symptoms. Comprehensive recovery programs can improve a person’s life in powerful ways even when the cause of their visual hallucinations is a serious and chronic illness.

And there is every reason to get help as soon as possible. When psychosis is left untreated, symptoms tend to only get worse. Psychotic episodes may expand to include additional symptoms, such as delusions, paranoia, and derealization or dissociation. So, a person’s pain and distress will intensify. Clinicians agree that the earlier someone gets treatment for psychosis, the better their long-term recovery outcomes will be.

What Can You Expect from Residential Mental Health Treatment?

The best treatment for visual hallucinations caused by psychotic disorders or other severe mental health disorders is a long-term comprehensive program. In a residential setting, the secure, nurturing environment can open the doors to healing through these scary symptoms. Following an expert differential diagnosis, each client will look forward to an individualized treatment program to address their particular clinical needs and their personal goals.

The following treatment options may be integrated for lasting recovery:

  • Medication may be a primary component of a person’s treatment plan—depending on what mental disorder or co-occurring disorders they are diagnosed with. And because it can take some time to discover the very best medication and dosage for the individual, clinicians can work closely with clients in a residential treatment setting to ensure that their medications integrate well with the rest of their program.
  • Psychotherapy is another primary component of treatment regardless of what someone’s diagnosis may be. But different behavioral disorders may respond to different therapeutic approaches. Especially when psychosis is involved, it’s very important for clients to be able to develop productive and trusting relationships with their clinicians, and a long-term treatment program allows for this over time. Together, they will be able to identify the triggers that provoke psychosis and other symptoms, learn healthy coping skills, and map out the future path for fulfilling recovery.
  • Holistic therapies can also play a major role in treatment for stress relief, for empowerment, and as opportunities to practice new and positive life skills.
  • Family support is a critical component for long-term recovery. Through therapy and education, family participation is integrated with a client’s treatment program.
  • Group support is another central building block in residential treatment because clients are processing their challenges and growing in tandem. It helps to relate to others during the high points and the low and to learn from others’ discoveries about coping strategies that work well.

In dynamic treatment centers, no one suffers in isolation. Compassionate support is a powerful foundation on which clients can build their futures in recovery. The clinicians are experts in treating psychosis and diverse co-occurring symptoms and disorders. And families can rest easy, knowing that their loved ones are receiving the very best possible care for their resilient mental health.

BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders, co-occurring substance use disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.