Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder is a distressful condition brought about by the use of hallucinogens with no predictability or prevention for those whom it affects. Re-occurring perceptual abnormalities reminiscent of hallucinogen intoxication and known as flashbacks can persist for months or years after cessation of hallucinogen use.
For some individuals, these flashbacks seriously disrupt their normal daily routines, aggravate underlying mental health conditions, or lead to severe mental health disorders requiring treatment.
What are Flashbacks?
Although hallucinogen persisting perception disorder is rare in those who have used hallucinogens only once, stress or underlying anxiety can aggravate the disturbances of commonly occurring flashbacks which may include:
- Visual or hallucinations
- Trailing colors or phenomena where moving objects leave trails
- Positive after-images
- False perceptions of moving objects in peripheral field of vision
- Color flashes or increased intensity
- Haloes around objects
- Macropsia– obects appear larger than normal
- Micropsia – objects appear smaller than normal
Symptoms of Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” is part of the criteria for the diagnosis of hallucinogen persisting perception disorder and while many people experience brief flashbacks after using hallucinogens, not all of these individuals warrant this diagnosis.
Persistent, pervasive, and long-lasting perception abnormalities are often accompanied by co-existing anxiety, depression, cognitive or performance impairments, paranoia, and other psychosis. In some cases, the individual may exhibit harmful and suicidal tendencies or other self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors because of consequential despair and as relationships, health, and social functioning falter, a cascade of other treatment needs evolve.
Types of Treatment for Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder
Treating the acute symptoms that pose significantly harmful risks such as suicide, major depression, or psychotic behaviors typically requires that the person be admitted into an inpatient treatment setting for at least the time it takes to stabilize the person physically and psychologically. According to the SAMHSA, Generally, staff of emergency rooms, clinics that treat people who abuse substances, and social detoxification centers have individuals who are very familiar with “talking down” individuals with bad hallucinogenic trips.” Medications such as benzodiazepines, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, or anti-psychotic medications may be used in conjunction with psychiatric and medical interventions as necessary.
Like other substance abuse and mental health disorders, the likely-hood of a successful treatment outcome for hallucinogen persisting perception disorder is comprehensive care designed for the unique needs of the patient. Types of treatment for hallucinogen persisting perception disorder may include:
- Individual psychotherapy
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
- 12-Step education and support
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Biofeedback & Neurofeedback
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Relapse Prevention
- Recreational therapies
Medications may need to be continued as counseling and other psychosocial support services are provided to address family, social, occupational, health, poly-substance abuse, and other consequences of the disorder.
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