Why Do We Have Drug Relapse Dreams?

Leading research suggests that drug relapse dreams are rare for the majority of people who are currently sober.

More than 60 percent of people newly sober report that they do not have relapse dreams. But for those who do have relapse dreams, it can produce strong anxiety.

The research also points to the fact that time is necessary to properly heal from drug use, and for people who have saturated themselves with alcohol or drugs, they will feel the effects of addiction for a while after stopping.

The 2019 research by Massachusetts General Hospital showed that people who had more severe drug or alcohol use had dreams about relapse. The more time these same people were sober, the fewer dreams they had.

So What Do Relapse Dreams Mean?

According to the research, someone who has these dreams is still adjusting to a life of abstinence. As those who are newly sober discover a new way to live, “psychological angst about relapse diminishes,” the longer you’re sober, the report states.

This also suggests that a relapse dream is mainly based on fear instead of the desire to drink or use.

Most often when someone has these dreams, they wake up with anxiety that they actually did take drugs or drink alcohol. Those who have these dreams report that when they wake up from these vivid dreams, they feel like they are real. Most often when the dreamer wakes and realizes it was a dream, great relief is felt.

Many sober people who have these dreams fear that it is a sign that they actually want to drink. However, experienced sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous have said they actually had a fear that they would ruin the progress they have made.

Why is Time so Important for Recovery?

If you are using drugs or drinking alcohol and are addicted and cannot stop, you have completely changed how your mind operates.

John Bruna, who we have partnered with at Renewal Lodge to bring mindfulness practices to recovery, said that the pathways in our mind are literally changed from drug use or alcohol. We have completely changed our minds. It can take a long time to rewire these pathways.

“It’s like making a path in a forest. You must continuously walk on the path to make a new pathway. The same is true with recovery and changing our mind.”

Burning Tree Ranch, our long-term treatment program for people who struggle with chronic relapse sees how more time is necessary for people who saturate themselves with alcohol or drugs.

“We will see a difference in our clients’ attitudes after they have been here for more than 90 days,” Burning Tree Ranch clinical director Meghan Bohlman said. “After about the 90-day mark we start seeing clients wake up from the fog of their addiction and a lot of progress has started to be made.”

It’s called Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, which means withdrawal symptoms can last for months.

Even though we have no alcohol or drugs inside of our bodies, we are still irritable and restless and often have high anxiety. In this state, it seems reasonable to have dreams about relapse.

The bottom line is that time and treatment heals. And if you are suffering from relapse dreams, it happens to one-third of us addicts and alcoholics. Work the steps and give it time.



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