Relapse dreams are a common part of recovery. In a typical relapse dream, you might find yourself in a familiar situation where you have an opportunity to use drugs or alcohol. You use the substance, then immediately feel overcome with disbelief, remorse, or disappointment, then you wake up and feel relieved to discover it was only a dream. Relapse dreams can be distressing but are they a sign of bad things to come or are they just a normal part of recovery?
What the science says
Given how common relapse dreams are, it’s perhaps surprising how little they’ve been studied. Most addiction counselors will tell you that nearly all of their clients report relapse dreams. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital set out to better understand what causes relapse dreams, how common they are, and what they mean. [https://www.massgeneral.org/news/press-release/drinking-and-drug-use-dreams-in-recovery-tied-to-more-severe-addiction-history] The team gathered data from more than 2,000 people across the US and discovered that about a third of the group had had at least one relapse dream since entering recovery.
Who is at risk for relapse dreams?
The team found there were primarily two factors that affected whether someone was likely to have a relapse dream: how serious their substance use is and how long they’ve been in recovery. Perhaps predictably, the worse a substance use disorder is, the more likely you are to dream about relapse when you enter recovery. The researchers estimated seriousness of a substance use disorder by whether the person had sought help, perhaps in the form of a 12-step program or a treatment program. This may explain why addiction counselors report relapse dreams are nearly universal: they are more likely to work with people with stubborn substance use issues.
The other factor is how long you’ve been in recovery. You are more likely to have relapse dreams at the beginning of recovery and they become less common the longer you remain sober.
What do they mean?
Since relapse dreams are correlated with being new to recovery and having a more serious substance use issue, they may also be correlated with a higher risk of relapse. However, there’s no reason to think that a relapse dream is a sign your recovery is going badly. It may even be the opposite. Our brains integrate new skills and information while we sleep. A relapse dream may be a sign your brain is processing new ideas about sobriety and relapse prevention. If you wake up feeling relieved that you didn’t actually relapse, there’s probably nothing to worry about.
Tree House Recovery of Orange County, California is a premiere men’s addiction treatment facility that uses eight different modalities as part of a holistic treatment program that helps you become the best version of yourself. To learn more about Tree House Recovery, call us today at (855) 202-2138