Dream a little dream of me....
By Brian Gamarello, Clinical Director
Early recovery comes with a lot of physical baggage that results from years of abusing substances. Even after being successfully detoxed at a medical facility, many times the patient suffers from various withdrawal symptoms known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms, or PAWS, for weeks or even months following. Drug dreams are no different. While not necessarily a physical correlation to the cessation of substance abuse, drug dreams tend to be more of a mental symptom of withdrawal. As with any habit or addiction, it is partially physically and partially emotionally based. Many recovering addicts newly in recovery are bombarded with drug dreams in the beginning and are completely blindsided by the arrival of this not so welcome addition to his or her life. Dealing with drug dreams can be challenging, but it is possible to overcome.
Every night when we sleep, we dream. Dreams are the images created by our subconscious mind during the REM phase of sleep. Many experts believe that our dreams are directly influenced by our encounters and emotions we experience during our waking hours. It should come as no surprise that many newly recovering people experience what are known as drug dreams, or dreams in which the recovering addict is using or around drugs and/or alcohol. These dreams are often extremely vivid and can leave the individual confused or truly believing he or she had used even after waking. This is a completely normal portion of the recovery process, especially in the beginning, and should not be a source of shame or fear. But the dangers posed by drug dreams are very real nonetheless, and it is extremely important for a person newly in recovery to know how to handle drug dreams and the resulting feelings that stem from them.
The first thing you should do after awakening from a drug dream is to bring yourself back into reality. The vividness of the dream may have seemed completely real, but it is important to recognize it for what it was: a dream. Much like waking up from a nightmare as a child, remind yourself that it’s not real. Many people report feelings of shame or guilt after having a drug dream, feeling as though it is somehow his or her fault that he or she is dreaming about using. It is impossible to control the subconscious mind. It is not that you are not doing enough for your recovery or that you’re failing in any way, it happens to the best of us. Even people with years of sobriety report having drug dreams on occasion. Do not beat yourself up. A drug dream itself is not a relapse.
Many people who have drug dreams fail to report them to any sort of support system out of fear of judgment or ridicule. A great method for battling drug dreams is by being open and honest about them with the people in your support system, such as fellow recovering addicts or your sponsor. By sharing your struggles with others, they can actively offer their own experiences and advice on the matter, as well as reassure you that everything will be okay. Remaining open and honest is a key element in recovery, and since drug dreams typically occur more often in early recovery, it is healthy to begin to practice this level of openness with your support system from the very beginning.