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What Are Relapse Dreams?

If you’re in recovery, having a very vivid dream about using drugs or drinking alcohol can be unsettling.

It’s not all that uncommon to have hyper-realistic dreams about relapsing that leave you sweaty and anxious upon waking. Relapse dreams can be scary and unsettling because they feel very real. Although they can have a lasting impact, they don’t necessarily mean you’re going to relapse.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what relapse dreams are, what causes them, and how you can get help if you’re struggling.

What are relapse dreams?

In the early stages of addiction recovery, people often have trouble sleeping at night. Many also experience what’s known as “relapse dreams,” which are vivid dreams in which they use drugs or drink alcohol and are overcome with fear, disbelief, guilt, and remorse as a result.

Of course, these individuals eventually wake up and realize it was all just a dream. However, the overwhelming feelings of fear and guilt can linger, causing damaging psychological effects that can sometimes contribute to relapse in real life.

What causes relapse dreams?

According to experts, dreams represent fragments of our day-to-day reality. There are many explanations about why we dream and what those dreams mean. Still, researchers speculate that when we dream, our subconscious minds may be using memories to process particular emotions, such as the fear of relapsing.1

However, some factors may make one person more likely than another to have relapse dreams in recovery. According to a study from the Massachusetts General Hospital Recovery Research Institute, relapse dreams are more common among those with more severe clinical histories of alcohol and other drug problems or those who have used drugs and alcohol for a long time.2

Other potential causes for relapse dreams include:

  • Emotional distress
  • Triggering events 
  • Having cravings
  • Chronic or intense stress

How common are relapse dreams?

Not everyone in recovery will have relapse dreams, but many do. According to a study published by the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, about one-third of U.S. adults in recovery report having had drinking/drug-using dreams after stopping substance use.3

Regardless, relapse dreams are more common in the early stages of recovery. Typically, as the brain and body adjust to living life sober, the psychological angst associated with relapsing also decreases.

How do relapse dreams affect recovery?

Fortunately, just because you have a relapse dream does not mean you’re going to relapse in real life. It’s a normal experience for many people in recovery, and understandably so. If you think about it, at some point, using drugs or alcohol may have become an automated and uncontrollable behavior for you, something that you just did to feel normal. So it makes sense that you might have a dream or two about relapsing while you’re adjusting to sobriety.

However, although relapse dreams are normal, they aren’t something you should ignore. For some people, relapse dreams may be disturbing enough to cause severe emotional and psychological distress that triggers an actual relapse, which is certainly cause for concern. In some cases, they may also make you second guess yourself and your commitment to recovery. 

What should I do if I have a relapse dream?

Since relapse dreams can cause severe problems in recovery, it’s essential to address them right away. If you have a relapse dream, there’s no need to feel ashamed or guilty about it. Chances are, many of the people you met in rehab or attend meetings with have also had the same experience. So instead of burying it and allowing it to eat away at you, take the following steps and be proactive to protect your sobriety.

  • Identify your emotions and what made you feel that way. A relapse dream may make you feel more scared and anxious about the possibility of relapsing. Instead of allowing those feelings to become a trigger, identifying them and determining the source of those emotions will help you regain control over your thoughts and actions. It will also take away the power the dream holds over you.
  • Share with your counselor, therapist, sponsor, or a trusted friend. Voice your fears and concerns about relapse and share your dream experience with someone you trust. Even if they are not in recovery themselves, talking about your dream aloud can help you get those feelings out and prevent further anxiety over it.

What if I actually relapse?

Sometimes, relapse is a part of the recovery process. If you end up relapsing, one of the best things you can do to get back on track is to seek out help right away and make sure you have a solid recovery support program. For some people, this may include ongoing treatment through an intensive outpatient program (IOP), an Austin sober living program, or residential rehab. Attending recovery meetings regularly is always beneficial as well.

By maintaining active involvement in a treatment program, you’ll learn how to be honest with yourself and others, discuss your triggers and cravings, and establish effective strategies for coping with them. Going back to drug rehab in Austin or elsewhere will help you learn how to deal with the negative thoughts associated with relapse dreams and support you as you adjust to a new sober lifestyle.

In addition to seeking out ongoing support and treatment, you may also need to consider getting treatment for co-occurring disorders like anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or depression. These conditions often accompany addiction, and it can be more challenging to achieve long-term recovery without addressing substance abuse and mental health issues simultaneously.

Sober living and recovery support at Eudaimonia Recovery Homes

If you’ve had relapse dreams, you’re struggling to cope with the way the dreams make you feel, or you’ve recently relapsed, the professionals at Eudaimonia Recovery Homes are available to support you and help you get back on track. Call (512) 580-3130 today to learn more about our Austin sober living homes, IOP, and recovery support services.

References:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284378
  2. https://www.massgeneral.org/news/press-release/drinking-and-drug-use-dreams-in-recovery-tied-to-more-severe-addiction-history 
  3. https://www.journalofsubstanceabusetreatment.com/article/S0740-5472(18)30370-2/fulltext

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