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 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 using is common among people in recovery, and many fear that relapse dreams could be a sign of what lies ahead.
But the truth is that research data is split when it comes to the connection between relapse dreams and actual relapse. While some studies show that those who have frequent relapse dreams are more likely to start using again, other studies 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. Those who respond to the dreams with frustration or those who begin to romanticize their past use are more likely to relapse. Those who feel relieved after waking up, on the other hand, tend to become more committed to their sobriety.
What Causes Relapse Dreams
The root of a relapse dream can vary widely, but these are some common reasons why you may be experiencing these unnerving dreams.
• You Are New to Sobriety: Until recently, your life revolved around drugs and alcohol, so it is normal for your mind to still associate using with pleasure and manifest this in a dream. The number of relapse dreams you experience are likely to diminish as your brain resets itself and relearns to find pleasure in healthy day-to-day activities.
• You Are in Mourning: Dreaming about a loved one you have lost is normal, and as strange as it may sound, drugs and alcohol have been such an integral part of your life that your mind could be grieving the loss of these substances. Your worries and anxieties about a life sans drugs and alcohol could be triggering this grief.
• Subtle Triggers: Dreams are often considered to be interpretations of our daily lives. Your relapse dream could be the result of you encountering something earlier in the day that subconsciously reminded you of using. It doesn’t have to be something as obvious as seeing a bottle or a needle. It could’ve been something subtle like listening to a song, seeing a photograph, hearing a name, or even a specific smell.
• You Are Stressed: For many, it is 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 recurring 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 surroundings to try to find what is causing you the added stress.
• You Are Experiencing Cravings: It is normal to experience cravings, especially if you are new to recovery. If you are experiencing severe cravings or many of them, these cravings may also manifest as relapse dreams. Look for ways to distance yourself from anything or anyone who might trigger you, practice self-care, and speak to your sponsor or recovery coach about how you can better manage these cravings.
What to Do If You Have A Relapse Dream
Dreams that remind you of some of your darkest days are upsetting and can understandably shake your confidence in your sobriety. But it is important to know that a relapse dream is not an omen for the inevitable. Remember that relapse is preventable. So, don’t let bad dreams ruin all the hard work you have put into changing your life. Rather than letting your dream consume you with fear and worry, channel that energy into strengthening your recovery.
• 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 before you go to bed.
• Surround Yourself with Support: Your environment deeply impacts every aspect of your life, including how you feel. So, stay away from triggers, negativity, and anyone who is not supportive of your new, healthy lifestyle. By surrounding yourself with support, you will gain more confidence in your ability 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 recovery. It never hurts to attend an extra meeting, go to an extra therapy session, 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.
• Ask for Help: No one knows you better than yourself so if you are worried that your dreams are more than just dreams, reach out for help. 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. Take things one day at a time and focus on today. And always know that you are not alone.
How to Establish a Support Network
Building community support has never been more important than now. Licensed clinician Jana Wu shares her tips for developing a strong support network.
Sobriety vs Recovery: Why Giving Up Drugs and Alcohol Isn’t Enough
Sobriety does not stop at abstaining from drugs and alcohol. Emotional sobriety is the next step that helps us stay in recovery and become the best version of ourselves. Learn how mindfulness, patience, and making connections can help you on your journey of recovery.
Discovering Sober Fun: An Interview with Jimmy Hamm from the Clean Fun Network
Getting sober is much more than just giving up drugs and alcohol; it's about rebuilding a fulfilling and meaningful life. Fun is an essential part of it. Join us as we discuss sober fun with Jimmy Hamm, founder of Clean Fun Network.