As a person in recovery, I know what it’s like to experience drug dreams – also called ‘using dreams’ – and to awake the next morning upset or in a panic about it. It’s important to know, and to remind yourself, that dreaming about drug use is common and to be expected in recovery. And not only that, it’s important to realize that using dreams aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
Findings suggest that readiness for change is reflected in dream content and that our “dream-life” can provide us with opportunities to rehearse change when it comes to using in our dreams. In fact, drug-using dreams can serve an important purpose by informing us of where we’re at in our recovery at any given time. Probably what’s most telling – and most important – is your reaction upon waking from the dream, whether you actually used in the dream or refused. Here are 5 possible meanings of your drug dreams.
#1. Indicate your state of mind and level of recovery
Depending on the type of dream, whether you used or not and how you reacted, drug dreams can be an indication that you’re more engaged in the treatment and recovery process.
A well-known study showed that alcoholics who dreamt about drinking during the course of their rehabilitation treatment tended to achieve longer periods of sobriety. So, in other words, they were serious enough about learning to abstain and recover – so much so that they were dreaming about it at night. A similar study of crack cocaine users had very similar findings. Therefore, the using dream, in-and-of-itself, may be a positive sign.
#2. Some of these dreams are memories being consolidated
Dreaming – any kind of dreaming – is a way for the brain to categorize and consolidate memories and experiences. And for the recovering addict and alcoholic, there are many experiences and memories involving drug use because, well, most of our time involved being under the influence. So, it isn’t strange to be dreaming about drug-related actions, such as getting and using drugs.
#3. It’s just your brain’s ability to dream regenerating
Being unconscious (as we often were in our active addiction) is not the same thing as actually sleeping (what we’re able to do now that we’re not using). That is, the heavy use of drugs and alcohol didn’t allow normal dreaming to take place. Previously suppressed dreams may be unfinished business, especially traumas that had not been processed while we were using or drinking. Many drugs suppress dreaming and the common understanding among the medical community is that the brain simply needs to make up for those lost dreams.
#4. For purely physiological reasons
In early and not-so-early recovery (remember, PAWS can last for several years after your last use), the brain is still adjusting to a new chemical makeup and balance without the presence of drugs. Therefore, it’s quite common for people like us to experience dreams about drugs and using drugs.
#5. A sign that you’re craving
If you’re experiencing drug dreams in which you use and feel good about it, it might be an indication that the addictive part of your brain is craving drugs. This doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to relapse.
It just means that you’re experiencing a particularly trying time in your recovery where your body and/or mind is craving substances. It’s what you do about it that counts: you can choose to give in to the cravings or you can choose to step up your recovery game in order to walk through it without using.
In either case, it’s a choice and it’s your choice. Relapse isn’t something that just simply happens one day. There is a process taking place well before the actual moment in which someone picks up.
Because having ‘using dreams’ or ‘drug dreams’ can sometimes be a trigger, it’s important to talk to your sponsor or other sober supports about the dream as well as your thoughts and feelings about having a using dream. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.