Dealing With Drinking And Using Dreams In Recovery

Dreams can be entertaining, disturbing, or downright bizarre. We all dream, even if we don’t remember it the next day. But why do we dream? What do they mean and why do i dream about using or drinking again anyway? Find out more by reading on.

What Are Dreams?

Dreams are basically stories and images that our mind creates while we sleep. They can be vivid. They can make you feel happy, sad, or scared. And they may seem confusing or perfectly rational.

Dreams can happen at any time during sleep. But you have your most vivid dreams during a phase called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is when your brain is most active. Some experts say we dream at least four to six times a night.

What happens in the brain when we sleep? - BaaghiTV English
This scan shows a patient who is dreaming on the left (in REM sleep)
and when they are awake on the right.

Lucid Dreams

A lucid dream is one in which you know you’re dreaming. Research shows that lucid dreaming comes with a boost of activity in parts of the brain that are usually restful during sleep. Lucid dreaming is a brain state between REM sleep and being awake.

Some lucid dreamers are able to influence their dream, changing the story, so to speak. This may be a good tactic to take sometimes, especially during a nightmare, but many dream experts say it’s better to let your dreams flow naturally if possible.

Lucid Dreaming | Focused Inquiry II


A nightmare is a bad dream. It’s common in both children and adults. Often, it happens because of:

  • Stress, conflict, and fear
  • Trauma
  • Emotional problems
  • Medication or drug use
  • Physical health conditions
  • Mental health conditions
  • Children
What your dreams can reveal about your health | Daily Mail Online

If you have a certain nightmare over and over again, your subconscious may be trying to tell you something. Listen to it. If you can’t figure out why you’re having bad dreams, talk to a mental health professional, Counsellor or GP. You can find contact information for them on our help and support page here. They may be able to help you figure out what’s causing your nightmares and give you tips, therapies or alternative options to put you at ease.

Keep in mind that no matter how scary a nightmare is, it’s not real and most likely won’t happen to you in real life.

Why Do We Dream?

There are many theories about why we dream, but no one knows for sure. Some researchers say dreams have no purpose or meaning. Others say we need dreams for our mental, emotional, and physical health and others say it helps us process stressful or complex information. That tends to be the leading theory at present.

Studies have looked into the importance of dreams to our health and well-being. In one study, researchers woke people just as they were going into REM sleep. They found that those who weren’t allowed to dream had:

  • More tension
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • A hard time concentrating
  • Lack of coordination
  • Weight gain
  • A tendency to hallucinate
  • Lack of energy
  • More negative moods
  • Greater response to pain
  • Less mobility
  • Cravings for fast foods and sugary foods or drinks
  • Greater cravings for drugs and alcohol
  • Greater use of drugs and alcohol

Many experts say dreams exist to:

  • Help solve problems in our lives
  • Incorporate memories
  • Process emotions
  • Help us process grief, stress or physical/mental pain
  • Helps us transition more easily from active substance use to abstinence and recovery

If you go to bed with a troubling thought, you may wake with a solution or at least feel better about the situation.

How many times have we been told to “sleep on the problem?”. Even our previous generations of family have told us this for years, even before scientific research suggested was available. This is why, as it allows us to process the information and formulate possible outcomes and resolutions. That’s the theory anyway, based on the latest findings from recent studies.

Scientists identify parts of brain involved in dreaming | Science | The  Guardian

How Long Do Dreams Last?

REM sleep lasts only a few minutes early in the night but gets longer as we sleep. Later in the night, it might last more than 30 minutes. So you might spend half an hour in a single dream. That’s why disturbed sleep makes us feel tired, lethargic and low mood as we rob ourselves of precious REM sleep in the early hours of the morning.

What Do Dreams Mean?

Famous psychologist Sigmund Freud believed that dreams are a window into our subconscious and that they reveal a person’s:

  • Unconscious desires
  • Thoughts
  • Motivations
  • Requirements/needs

Freud thought dreams were a way for people to satisfy urges and desires that weren’t acceptable to society.

Just as there are different opinions about why we dream, there are different views about what dreams mean. Some experts say dreams have no connection to our real emotions or thoughts and that they are simply random outcomes from the brain providing electrical stimulus to areas of the brain we don’t use while we are awake. They’re just strange stories that don’t at all relate to normal life.

Others say our dreams may reflect our own thoughts and feelings — our deepest desires, fears and concerns, especially dreams that are repeated over and over. By interpreting our dreams, we may gain insight into our lives and ourselves. Many people say they’ve come up with their best ideas while dreaming.

Often, people report having similar dreams: They’re being chased, fall off a cliff, can fly, getting attacked, being in or around people or places we know in reality, or show up in public naked. These types of dreams are probably caused by hidden stress, fear or anxiety. The dreams may be similar, but experts say the meaning behind the dream is unique to each person.

Experts say not to rely on books or “dream dictionaries,” which give a specific meaning for a specific dream image or symbol. The reason behind your dream is unique to you.

Can Dreams Predict The Future?

Sometimes, dreams come true or tell of a future event. When you have a dream that plays out in real life, experts say it’s most likely due to:

  • Coincidence
  • Bad memory
  • An unconscious linking of known information
  • Repeating an activity or process in a similar manor as you have done previously, making it seem like “Deja Vu”

But sometimes, dreams can motivate you to act a certain way, thus changing the future. The video below will help you understand Deja Vu a little bit more easily.

Why Are Dreams Hard To Remember?

Researchers don’t know for sure why dreams are easily forgotten. Maybe we’re designed to forget our dreams because if we remembered them all, we might not be able to tell dreams from real memories.

Also, it could be harder to remember dreams because during REM sleep, our body may shut down systems in our brain that create memories. We may remember only those dreams that happen just before we wake, when certain brain activities are turned back on.

Some say it’s not that our minds forget dreams but that we don’t know how to access them. Dreams may be stored in our memory, waiting to be recalled. This may explain why you suddenly remember a dream later in the day: Something may have happened to trigger the memory.

Tips For Attempting Dream Recall

If you’re a sound sleeper and don’t wake up until the morning, you’re less likely to remember your dreams, compared with people who wake up several times in the night. Some tips may help you remember your dreams:

  • Wake up without an alarmYou’re more likely to remember your dreams if you wake up naturally than with an alarm. Once the alarm goes off, your brain focuses on turning off the annoying sound, not on your dream.
  • Remind yourself to remember. If you make a decision to remember your dreams, you’re more likely to remember them in the morning. Before you go to sleep, remind yourself that you want to remember your dream.
  • Dream playback. If you think about the dream right after waking, it may be easier to remember it later.
  • Use hypnosis. Hypnotism can also help recall dreams, past events and help deal with stress, emotional pain and grief to list just a few ways in which hypnosis can help.

Use Hypnosis

Hypnosis can help you to change this – by putting you in a state of deep relaxation, when your mind is open to suggestions, the hypnotherapist uses a set of carefully chosen images to rewire the way your subconscious works and to make it more focused on remembering what you dreamt.

Remembering your dreams can help you to understand how you subconsciously feel about various people and situations, to explore solutions for some complicated situations in the real world, to become an active (lucid) dreamer who controls what he will be dreaming about – but you can’t use any of that if you can’t remember. Using hypnosis you will:

  • Be able to efficiently remember what you were dreaming. hypnosis will make your mind more focused on your dreams so that you’ll be more aware of them while and after sleeping.
  • Have more dreams, dreams that are more vivid and have more meaning. Hypnosis will also enhance the importance of your dreams and their power so that the “story” in them becomes more consistent and, if you want, more related to your real life.
  • Be able to analyse your dreams and perhaps to detect a pattern. When you remember what you dreamt, you can start writing your dream journal and analyse what your dreams are trying to tell you.

How To Make Sense Of Your Dreams

If you’re curious about your dreams or want to sort out any possible meaning behind them, consider keeping a dream diary or journal.

By the time you’ve entered recovery or decided to head towards coming away from active addiction and into recovery, you’ve likely been through a lot. Achieving abstinence can be a battle and once you’ve found it, you want to protect it. For a newly recovered person, and even those who have had a significant amount of clean/sober time under their belt, the threat of a lapse/relapse may be looming in the back of their mind.

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, sounds, sensations and situations from the dream may linger, and may even elicit urges to use or drink again.

This can be very unsettling to a person and even cause them to doubt their resolve or their ability to maintain their abstinence. Though these dreams do not happen to everyone, it is important to realise that they are a normal part of recovery and those going through this process should be aware that they may occur to prevent them from panicking and worrying that something is wrong.

Why Do These Happen?

You may dream of these things because your substance use and addiction was such an oppressive and intrusive part of your life. Even though you’ve found recovery, you haven’t wiped out the memory of using or drinking from you mind. For this reason, your brain still has these experiences to draw from, which you then may remember in the form of a dream.

Even though you’ve made a conscious and assertive decision to alter your behaviours 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 and prepare you for the new one ahead.

Alcohol consumption can also affect your dreams and quality of sleep, you can find out more about this in our previous article on this subject here.

Beyond this, your subconscious is very attuned—it may recognise 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?

As we mentioned earlier, the purpose of these dreams are 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 and dreams of refusing the drug .”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 clean and/or sober”. You could do this in the form of a list if you find it easier? We have created a pro’s & con’s table template you can print off and use, or have fun creating your own! You can find our template on our Downloads & Media Page here.

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. This could be emotional/physical stress, ill health or being in a negative, stressful environment to name just a few. Everyone’s situation is different so you must work out the reason behind 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/drinking 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/someone you know, or maybe it is something you’ve been in denial, feel ashamed, embarrassed or fearful about. Taking the time to talk to a therapist, Keyworker or Counsellor 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 and develop 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 realise that just because you dreamed these things does not mean that you’ve lost control over your abstinence/sobriety, or that you will do so in the future.

We previously posted an article about reacting or responding to thoughts or situations. This is an extremely important skill to learn. You can find the article here if you do not already incorporate that skill within your “recovery toolbox”.

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 behaviours 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, analysing 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, Keyworker or Counsellor.
  • 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, giving you further encouragement, support and peace of mind/reassurance.
  • Exercise. Some reports suggest that mindfulness, meditation or other exercises 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 behavioural therapies. 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 or fellowship 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. You can find contact information for a wide range of support and fellowship meetings on our help & support page here.

Don’t Let Your Bad Dreams Get In The Way Of Your Dreams For A Better Future

At Drink ‘n’ Drugs, we understand that the work doesn’t cease after you’ve found recovery/sobriety. A healthy and stable recovery takes focus and continued, lifelong investment. 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 and contact a healthcare professional such as a drug and alcohol Keyworker, Therapist, Counsellor or Psychiatrist. They can help remind you of what you’re working so hard to find, and give you even more skills and resources that you can utilise to protect and develop your recovery even more.

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Link to alcohol sleep DnD article

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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