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Whether you’re newly clean and sober or you’ve been in recovery for a while, it’s quite possible (and probable even) that you have or will experience drinking or using dreams. The thing about these dreams is that they’re frequently quite vivid which can be very stressful when we work so hard to stay clean. It’s quite common to wake up thinking that we’ve actually relapsed after we’ve experienced one of these dreams, and oftentimes in the dream, we’re very aware of our recovery. In other words, the feeling that we’re relapsing is very present before we wake up and is part of the dream itself, so the dreams can be very dark.

Why do we have drinking and using dreams?

Even when we’re doing very well in our recovery, these dreams can still happen. Although our conscious mind knows that one (drink or drug) is too many and a thousand never enough, our subconscious minds may never stop craving the substance. In early recovery in particular, the cravings can still be quite strong. Sometimes the dreams are brought on by a triggering event in the day, and other times they occur during times of stress.

Dealing with drinking and using dreams

While you should never ignore dreams in which you’ve been drinking or using, it’s not always necessary to overreact. These dreams are a part of recovery, and they’re simply telling the waking mind to be cautious – just because we’re sober doesn’t mean that cravings and relapse aren’t real possibilities. This is why long-term recovery maintenance programs are so important. Also, try not to keep your relapse dreams to yourself, especially if they’re happening frequently and they’re triggering for you. Talking to your sponsor or counselor can help you to process why you’re having the dreams in the first place and determine ways that you can strengthen your recovery program. If your sponsor or counselor thinks the dream (or dreams) could be a sign of a potential relapse, then it’s going to be more important than ever that your relapse prevention plan is a solid one. 

Dreams and relapse warning signs 

How you feel when you wake up from a dream in which you’ve relapsed can be a really good indicator of whether or not you’re in real danger of an actual relapse. If you wake up from a dream still craving the substance and wishing the dream had really happened, this is definitely a red flag that you want to pay attention to. Talk to your sponsor or counselor about this right away because they will more than likely suggest that you really up your recovery game. This might mean going to a lot more recovery meetings or even seeking outside help. If, on the other hand, you wake up feeling totally relieved that it was only a dream, then this is a good indicator that your recovery means a lot to you. You may just need to up your meetings a bit and take on an extra service position (if you’re in a twelve step program). The most important thing in either scenario is that you talk to someone you trust and come up with a game plan. There are always ways we can strengthen our program, and strengthening our program is never a bad thing. 

Preventing drinking and using dreams

  • Remove/relieve stress. We know this might seem easier said than done, but there are various things we can do to ease stress in our lives and sometimes even remove stress-inducing situations from our lives altogether. If, for example, your job is causing you a disproportionate amount of stress, you might want to start thinking about looking for a new job (if possible), or perhaps you need to learn how to say no to more tasks if you feel like you’re taking on too many responsibilities. Removing toxic relationships from our lives can make a big difference as well. Other ways to relieve stress can be through meditation and exercise. Even things like proper sleep and healthy eating habits can have a profound impact on how we deal with stressful situations and when our minds our calm, we’re far less likely to have disturbing dreams.
  • Create a pleasant and relaxing sleeping atmosphere. If possible, try to make sure that where you’re sleeping is comfortable, dark, and the right temperature. Arrange your bedroom in a way that’s conducive to a good night’s sleep. If you’re someone who sleeps better with white noise, this might mean sleeping with a fan on. Also, keep your bed sheets clean and make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable. This may seem minor but good sleep is so important to our overall health, and when drinking and using dreams are a concern, it’s more important than ever. 
  • Meditate before bed. Getting a good night’s sleep can be contingent on a lot of things. Going to bed with a busy mind is never a good idea and it can really mess with your sleep (and cause bad dreams, too). Meditating is one of the best things that we can do before bed to ensure that your monkey minds don’t get in the way of our sleeping. Even just five or ten minutes can help us to quiet our thoughts and rest more peacefully. This greatly minimizes the possibility that we’ll have disturbing dreams. 
  • Stay active in your recovery program. Whatever your recovery maintenance plan involves, whether that be twelve-step recovery or another program, the best way to keep thoughts of drinking and using at bay is to stay active in it. Recovery programs are designed to keep you connected to other addicts and it provides you tools that help you stay sober. It’s probably the most important tool on this list in terms of keeping your mind healthy over the long-term in your recovery. When you’re working a strong program, your subconscious mind is far less likely to want to grab onto destructive thoughts that can lead to drinking and using dreams.

While drinking and using dreams can be alarming certainly shouldn’t be ignored, it’s important to remember that they’re very common for people in recovery. This is another reason why there should be absolutely no shame in talking about them if you’re having them. Just about everyone you’ll meet who’s been in recovery for a while will be able to relate. If your drinking and using dreams are extremely frequent, then this is definitely something you shouldn’t be keeping to yourself. Once again, talk to your sponsor or counselor and don’t be afraid to ask for help.  

Kembali Recovery Center can Help

If you or someone you love is struggling to get or stay clean, Kembali Recovery Center is here for you. Contact us today to learn more about our Residential Treatment program and our Recovery and Beyond program

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