Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night covered in sweat and filled with fear because you had a dream that you were using drugs or drinking alcohol again? As you caught your breath and reminded yourself that it was just a nightmare, did you wonder what that dream meant? If so, you are not alone. Research shows that dreaming about relapsing is common among people in recovery.
Some people believe that relapse dreams, or recurrence dreams, mean that they are inclined to fall back into old habits. But the data behind that theory is split. While some studies show that those who have frequent relapse dreams are more likely to start using again, others show that individuals with recurring relapse dreams are more likely to stay sober. Because of this, experts say that the frequency of dreams is not as important as how an individual reacts to them. Having a clear perspective about these nightmares can ease your mind and help you stay on track with your sobriety.
What Causes Relapse Dreams?
The root of a recurrence dream can vary, but these are some common reasons why you may be experiencing them at night:
- You Are in Early Recovery: If sobriety is a more recent life change for you, is normal for your mind to still associate using with pleasure and manifest this in a dream. The number of relapse dreams you experience is likely to diminish as your brain relearns how to find pleasure in healthy day-to-day activities.
- You Are Experiencing Loss: As strange as it may sound, drugs and alcohol have been such an integral part of your life that your mind could be mourning the loss of these substances. Your worries and anxieties about a life sans drugs and alcohol could be triggering this grief.
- You Are Triggered: Dreams are often considered to be interpretations of our daily lives. Your relapse dream could be the result of something you encountered earlier in the day that subconsciously reminded you of using. It doesn’t have to be something as obvious as seeing a beer bottle or a needle. A subtle trigger can be just as powerful, such as a conversation between two people about their favorite alcoholic drinks or a picture taken from a time when you were using.
- You Are Stressed: For many, it was stress, anxiety, or depression that drove them to start using in the first place. If that was the case with you and you are experiencing frequent relapse dreams, it could be a sign that you are not managing your emotions as well as you think. Take an honest look at your life and find healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress that replace old, destructive habits.
- You Are Experiencing Cravings: It is normal to experience cravings, especially if you are new to recovery. If you are experiencing frequent or severe cravings, they may manifest as dreams about using again. Look for ways to distance yourself from anything or anyone who might trigger you and speak to your sponsor or a recovery coach about how you can better manage these cravings.
What to Do If You Have a Relapse Dream
Dreams that remind you of past use are guilt-inducing and can understandably shake your confidence. But it is important to know that a nightmare about using again is not an omen for the inevitable. Remember that recurrence is preventable. Don’t let bad dreams ruin all the hard work you have put into recovery from alcoholism or addiction. There are fortuitous steps you can take to secure your sobriety.
- Adjust Your Nighttime Routine: Allow your mind to unwind before you fall asleep by doing some light yoga, meditating, listening to some soothing music, or taking a relaxing bath. Having a clear head before bed eases any rising anxieties at night.
- Surround Yourself with Support: Listen to how your body and brain feel in different environments. Take note of who encourages you during your recovery and anyone who is not supportive of your new, healthy lifestyle. By building a support system, you will have the encouragement to tackle any challenges that come your way, relapse dreams included.
- Recommit to Your Recovery: Relapse dreams don’t necessarily mean that you are heading down a dangerous path, but they are a good reminder to actively work on your sobriety. It never hurts to attend an extra meeting, go from bi-weekly to weekly therapy sessions, start journaling, participate in more sober events, and spend quality time with loved ones. Remember, recovery is more than just abstaining from drugs and alcohol; it is actively investing energy into living a fulfilling life without substances
- Ask for Help: No one knows you better than yourself, so if you are worried that your dreams are indicative of a larger problem brewing inside, reach out for help from a trusted professional, family member, or friend. There is no such thing as getting help too early.
Sometimes dreams can be so vivid that they are all you can think about for days, but it is important to keep things in perspective. Whether a relapse dream is your mind adjusting to your new lifestyle, the result of a trigger, or a reminder to take your recovery more seriously—a dream is just that, a dream. Find peace in the fact that you are sober and able to prevent this bad dream from becoming your reality.