Addiction recovery affects the entirety of your life, both sleeping and waking. Moreover, many addictions themselves interfere with healthy sleep, so it is only natural that your sleep will change when you stop using an addictive substance.
Dreams tap a part of your brain that you do not often reach into during your waking life, and it is only natural that dream patterns change when you make the major life change of quitting drug use. Many dreams are believed to be related to “housekeeping” of the brain, essentially recharging you for another day. Other dreams, however, can leave you bewildered or otherwise not feeling like yourself. What do dreams about drinking or drug use mean in the person who has stopped using?
First, it is important to note that use-related dreams are very common. They tend to happen most frequently in the first couple of months after cessation of drug use, and then drop off significantly afterward. However, many people in addiction recovery have use-related dreams months or years into recovery. The later in recovery that such dreams occur, the likelier they are to be one-off dreams that will not be repeated the way they might be early in recovery.
Second, dreaming about drug or alcohol use does not mean you will relapse. When a person relapses, it is often due to identifiable factors, like a major life change, a geographic relocation, or crumbling of a person’s support system, not a dream.
Bear in mind that dream content is not as important as how you respond to it. There is no question that sometimes dreams leave you feeling raw or fragile, but with smart coping techniques, you should be able to get through it the way you get through addiction recovery in general, namely, one day at a time.
When a use-related dream leaves you shaken, focus on managing your stress and anxiety the following day. Being kind to yourself in healthy ways can keep you strong as the dream’s effects on your psyche fade. Healthy recovery-related activities can help too. Suppose you have taken up hiking as a healthy, non-drug-related activity during recovery. Perhaps having a gentle hike the day after an intense dream can help you reset yourself and remind yourself how far you have come.
Substance-related dreams can indicate that you are experiencing strong cravings. This can be particularly true for people in recovery from heroin and cocaine, which tend to be associated with strong cravings. If you believe this is you, then it is important to reach out. Call your sponsor, talk to your therapist, or attend a meeting. These activities can help you put your dreams into perspective.
On the other hand, dreams in which you abstain from use may offer you hope that you have turned a corner. When you wake up from a use-related dream with a sense of relief (whether or not you used a substance in the dream), it is a positive sign.
Talking about dreams can help you make sense of them, though many dreams have elements that make no sense whatsoever. Who in your support network could you talk to after waking up from a particularly intense dream? It is important to reach out to those people and talk about what has happened. If you speak with someone who has recovered from addiction, there is a strong possibility that he or she has been in the same situation, and just knowing others experience the same thing can be reassuring.
The path of addiction recovery is not necessarily a straight path. It often has curves and changes in direction. Dreams about substance use are common, and they do not mean you will relapse, particularly if you learn effective stress management techniques, and reach out to your counselor, sponsor, or another trusted person when a dream leaves you shaken. If you need someone to talk to about your recovery, we invite you to contact us today.