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What Do Drug-Related Dreams Mean?

Written By: Harris House

Category: Addiction, Blog, Recovery

Woman sleeping.If you (or someone you love) is in recovery, you may be experiencing vivid dreams about using drugs and alcohol. While drinking/drug-using dreams (DDUD) can be alarming, it’s actually a common occurrence. Here’s a closer look at the phenomenon and what it means.

About Substance Abuse and Dreams

Approximately a third of adults in recovery report having had dreams related to using drugs and alcohol after they’ve stopped, according to research published in The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

Explains John F. Kelly, PhD., who headed up the study and is also the Spallin Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Field of Addiction Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “Anecdotally, the occurrence of drinking and drug-using dreams is a known phenomenon among people in recovery.”

In fact, regardless of the nature of the substance use disorder — be it alcohol, cannabis, cocaine or heroin — these dreams typically follow a common pattern. First, the person dreams of drinking or using a drug. Then, they experience a range of emotions, including disbelief, fear, guilt, and remorse. Finally, they wake up to the relief of realizing that it was just a dream.

The purpose of the study, according to Kelly? “Given that these dreams can be deeply unnerving, more information could help treatment providers, those in recovery, and their families know what to expect going forward.”

Woman practicing yoga outside.Understanding Drug-Related Dreams

The study revealed several interesting findings. For starters, it determined that the longer a person is in recovery, the less frequent the dreams are. These dreams were also more common in people with more severe histories of substance use and abuse. For example, individuals who’d used substances 10 or more times were more likely to report DDUD. Additionally, an early age of onset was also linked with greater incidences of recent DUDD. However, a link was not established with other factors, such as demographics, substance use history, treatment and recovery service utilization, and whether a person considers themselves to be or have been in recovery.

“We found that the individuals in recovery who reported at least one such dream had received help from treatment and mutual-help organizations in the past, reflecting a more serious clinical disorder and impact on the central nervous system,” continues Kelly.

Kelly also suggests that the abating of these dreams is a promising sign. “The association between the decreasing frequency of these dreams and the length of time in recovery suggests that, as the body and mind gradually adapt to abstinence and a new lifestyle, psychological angst about relapse diminishes,” he says.

Kelly further points to changes in REM and deep wave sleep that may indicate the “healing process and brain-mind stabilization” that happens over time during recovery.

The takeaway regarding DDUD? If you are experiencing them during your recovery, it is a natural and normal part of the process. While the meaning of dreams is highly personal, dreams of this type may also indicate feelings of stress or anxiety about your recovery.  With the right treatment, these feelings don’t have to mean relapse. In fact, they can actually be a good sign as they suggest that you are invested in your recovery and are therefore more likely to be successful.

The even better news is that if you are experiencing fewer of these dreams than you have in the past, this may mean that you are making progress on your recovery journey.  To learn about how leading St. Louis addiction treatment facility Harris House can help you achieve your recovery goals,  contact us today.

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