Sometimes, when a person is in their recovery, they will experience dreams that relate to their former drug or alcohol use. Often, these dreams may be extremely detailed and/or recurring. Images and situations from the dream may linger, and may even elicit urges to use again.
This can be very unsettling to a person and even cause them to doubt their resolve or their ability to maintain their sobriety. Though these dreams do not happen to everyone, it is important to realize that they are a normal part of recovery.
Why Do These Happen?
You may dream of these things because your substance abuse and addiction was such an oppressive part of your life. Even though you’ve found sobriety, you haven’t wiped out the memory of using from you mind. For this reason, your brain still has these experiences to draw from.
Even though you’ve made a conscious and assertive decision to alter your behaviors and thoughts, replacing negative patterns with positive ones, your subconscious may still be processing the powerful transformation that has occurred. These dreams may just be indicative of the process your brain is going through to fully overcome and put away the lifestyle you left behind.
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Beyond this, your subconscious is very attuned—it may recognize and pick up on things that you may not have consciously noticed, such as triggers or cues that might prompt thoughts of drug use.
The good news is, if your conscious mind did not notice these or become overtly affected by them, you’re quite likely well on your way to a solid recovery and have developed some strong coping skills to help you in these situations. It is important to remind yourself of this.
What Do They Mean And How Will They Impact My Life?
The purpose of these dreams is not fully understood, however, a fair amount of research has been conducted on this subject. Theories vary as to why a person encounters these dreams, and what, if any, role they have within a person’s life and their chance of relapsing. Despite the fact that research is mixed, what you need to understand is that if you have one of these dreams, you are not doomed back into a life of drugs.
One study focused on dreams within a recovering alcoholic’s life, and how they were impacted by using The Storytelling Method of Dream Interpretation (TSM). This method directs them towards creating a narrative of the associations that were made in their dreams so that they can discover insight about their emotional state, and thus enhance their recovery. It found that “TSM appears appropriate for recovering alcoholics because they can gain direct insight into their addiction and their emotional life from their dream images.”
A second study focused on the role of dreams within crack cocaine user’s recovery. It found “A better treatment outcome was associated with having drug dreams at 6 months follow-up (p < .05) and dreams of refusing the drug (p < .05).” If you haven’t turned down drugs in your dreams, take time during your waking hours to refresh yourself on why you need to stay sober.
It is worth noting, however, that some research suggests that sleep disturbances, including those caused by disturbing dreams, may increase a person’s risk of relapse. For this reason, it is imperative that you be proactive in better understanding why they’re happening and take steps toward alleviating the stress caused by these dreams.
There is a predominant opinion that these dreams may, in actuality, serve a positive purpose. First, they are drawing your attention toward using and thoughts of relapse, which forces you to contend with how grave that situation would be if you let it happen. It gives you a renewed and vested interest in taking your recovery seriously, something that is vastly beneficial, no matter where you are within your journey.
Second, these dreams may point to a difficulty or another issue that revolves around your recovery. Perhaps it is something you know, or maybe it is something you’ve been in denial about. Taking the time to talk to a therapist about these things, and what they may point to, can help you to determine what these issues are, and what you need to do to revamp your recovery strategy and further hone your coping skills.
What Can You Do To Combat These?
What is even more important than why they are happening is what you will do in reaction to them. You must stop and realize that just because you dreamed these things does not mean that you’ve lost control over your sobriety, or that you will do so in the future.
Here we offer you some tips to process and understand your dreams in a beneficial manner.
You will notice that many of these tips are healthy behaviors and skills that are good for relapse prevention all around:
- Try not to dwell on your drug-using dreams. Though this may be easier said than done, do not spend that much time thinking about your dreams, analyzing them, or worrying about them, beyond what can be productive. Though it is natural to think of these dreams, worrying to the excess—to the point that it creates anxiety and stress (two things that can endanger your sobriety and increase the risk of relapse)—can actually become detrimental, as it can deplete your morale or breed temptation.
- Write your dreams down. Jotting down what you remember may help you to notice any recurring patterns or motifs, which can be a useful tool when you discuss them with your therapist.
- Reach out to your family and friends. Open up to them about your doubts and worries, or even spend time talking about other things. Even just having a distraction so that these negative thoughts can’t set roots, can be helpful. Additionally, it gives your loved ones the opportunity to encourage you and draw your attention back to all the ways you’ve succeeded and changed so far.
- Exercise. Some reports suggest that exercising later in the day will help you to sleep more soundly and avoid either the onset or frequency of these dreams.
- Engage in healthful activities. Taking the time to be involved in positive events and hobbies that encourage you to feel a sense of accomplishment or connection to others can be a huge step toward making you feel more secure in your sobriety. Not all of these have to be social. It is just as important to do things that provide you a chance to spend alone time fostering personal growth, so that you can be introspective and develop critical measures of self-love, confidence, and respect.
- Relax. Sometimes—when a person is newly recovered or even farther down the road—they spend a great deal of energy keeping themselves busy and distracted to sidestep thoughts of drugs or alcohol. While it is good to actively keep your mind off of things, you need to give your body and mind time to regroup and decompress. Try getting a massage or taking a bath; you may even enjoy yoga or Tai Chi.
- Try behavioral therapy. Perhaps the most impactful of all, this method is one that you’re likely familiar with if you went through a treatment program. The benefit of these therapies can extend beyond this time and help you to overcome and process these dreams, as well as any other thoughts you might have that are making your recovery difficult.
- Join a support group. A twelve-step or other support group may help you gain acceptance and strength in overcoming these dreams. Chances are, someone else in the group has experienced something similar, and in hearing about their experiences, you can find reassurance, solidarity, and possibly some tips to help you cope.
Don’t Let Your Bad Dreams Get In The Way Of Your Dreams For A Better Future
At Vertava Health, we understand that the work doesn’t cease after you’ve found sobriety. A healthy and stable recovery takes focus and continued reinvestment. If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, and the way these dreams might be affecting your mental health, please don’t hesitate—contact us today. We can help remind you of what you’ve worked so hard to find and give you even more skills and resources that you can utilize to protect your sobriety even more.