What do drug dreams mean?


By David Joel Miller.

Drug dreams and nightmares in people with co-occurring issues

An increase in dreams is a common occurrence among people in early substance abuse recovery. Some of these dreams become especially vivid and troubling. Many drugs suppress dreaming and the brain seems to need to make up for those lost dreams. Some of these dreams are memories being consolidated or current issues. Other previously suppressed dreams may be unfinished business, especially traumas that had not been processed while the client was using or drinking.

I remind clients that being unconscious is not the same thing as sleeping. The heavy use of drugs and alcohol has not allowed normal dreaming to take place.

Often there is an increase in nightmares as the person gets more time off the drugs or alcohol. As we discussed in a previous post (Getting rid of nightmares that maintain depression and PTSD) those dreams that are interpreted as nightmares play a role at maintaining depression, anxiety and PTSD. This is an extra problem for those who have used alcohol to avoid the disturbing nightmares and now experience nightmares as a trigger for relapse.

One commonly reported dream by people in recovery is the dream about using their drug of choice. The conventional wisdom is that as the person withdraws from the drug, the brain adjusts to a new balance without the presence of drugs and at this point dreams about the drug are common.

Clients who awake from a dream and are genuinely scared that they may have used, may experience a panicked reaction. They need reassurance that dreams of drug use which result in a fear of use are a common and expected occurrence in recovery.

Some drug use dreams are so realistic that the client has the sense of tasting the drug in their mouth or feeling the familiar body changes. This sensation can be especially disturbing and may be a relapse trigger.

Positive drug use dreams can be dangerous. Franey and Christo, researchers from London, report that of clients with six weeks or more clean, 85% had drug use dreams. The average number of dreams was between two and three per month. The more drug use dreams the more the risk of relapse.

Frequent positive dreams may be a warning that the addictive part of your brain is craving drugs.

If you have drug use dreams it is important to talk with someone whom you trust as soon as possible after awakening from the dream.

Use of alcohol or sleeping pills is generally not recommended in people with substance abuse issues. The risk of abuse is great and the benefits generally small. If you feel you need some sleeping aids talk with your doctor or psychiatrists about the risks and benefits before starting to take anything.  Make sure you remind your doctor of any substance abuse issues or mental health diagnosis before beginning a treatment program that includes sleep aids. 

Have you experienced drug use dreams? Feel free to leave a comment about your experiences with drug or alcohol use dreams. 

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.

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22 thoughts on “What do drug dreams mean?

  1. Pingback: Drug dreams | David Miller, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

  2. I’m almost at 3 years heroin free (May 2nd) and I still have these dreams on almost a nightly basis. It’s just something I have come to terms with and, though frustrating, I know they will go away in time. You just have to stay strong until then and realize they are just dreams.

  3. so ive been clean on and off for a while im presribed suboxone and colnopin. recently in my relationship my girl friend has made it very clear that i stay clean or she will no longer continue our relationship, and my parents are fed up so the pressure is on! ive been clean for a few months and the past 3 nights in a row ive been dreaming of me using my drug of choice blues and being busted and chased after. the dreams are really getting to me and i wokeup this morning upset as if ive done something wrong, but then a few hours passand ive been having awful cravings.

    • Sounds like you are doing what is called “white knuckling it.” Consider reaching out for some help. A 12 step group like NA would be a good place to start. You may also need to do some sort of program. Especially if you want to get off the proscribed meds. Do NOT just stop taking your meds with out discussing this with your doctor. There are likely outpatient professional programs or counselors in your area that specialize in substance abuse or co-occurring disorders.I think it is a good thing that when you have the dream it gets to you. The hard part is to ride this out without picking up. Best wishes to you on getting clean and sober and having a happy life.

  4. So this is probably going to sound lame but I found this site because two nights ago I had avery vivivid dream that a very close friend offered me heroin via a needle? (I question this because I don’t even know if u can use heroin with a needle??) In this dream I took the heroin and may have twice though at some point in the dream I did say I don’t want this and I didn’t want to Get addicted. When I woke up I was very panicked and scared I actually used heroin. Okay heres the part that sets this apart from relapsing and so on…I’ve never used drugs. Yes I just at admitted that as a 26 year old I’ve never done drugs and ill go one step farther to say I’ve never actually seen pot let alone heroin. I do socially drink alcohol on occasion and I smoke cigarettes but no drugs. Wat could this mean in my situation because as I’ve said it was very vivid and I was very panicked.

    • Thanks for the comment Elizabeth. Since I do not know you and have not done an assessment or treatment I cant be sure why this happened to you. Even then interpreting dreams is taking a back seat to talking about what is going on in your awake life these days. Here are some general thoughts. Injecting Heroin is the most common way to do it. It can be smoked or snorted or swallowed but so much gets lost in the process and people who use it can develop a very expensive habit so they quickly progress to injecting. Even if you have never been around drugs it is likely you have heard about it somewhere or seen it in a movie or on T. V. Sometimes we remember things even when we are not aware we ever saw or heard about them.Heron is closely related to prescription painkillers like Vicodin, Codeine etc. So people who have had a prescription pain med can develop a craving for an opiate. I am just speculating here. If you drink alcohol or have used over the counter pain meds then you have done “drugs” whether you realize it or not. If you have ever taken three pain pills when the bottle said take two, you have abused drugs. Beyond that it is a matter of degree.
      One other thing to consider – is there something in your gut that is telling you to be careful of this friend that they may want to get you to do something that is not good for you? Dreams are not always literal and they do not always make sense but they can tell us about issues you mind is working on that are emotional and below the level of your awareness. If this keeps happening or is distressing you may need to talk it over with a professional.

  5. i will e six months clean this week and i still have these extremely vivid drug dreams i feel alomost too frequently. for instance last night i dreamt i smoked weed with black tar heroin on it. this is something i’d never done but used both drugs before. immediately was aware of what i did and tried to find my phone to contact my sponsor but i had the wrong phone with out his number. i also remember being aware that i was gonna fail my drug test at my halfway house and repercussions of what this was gonna do setting back my life. my drug of choice was drugs in general. i couldnt say no. these dreams are scary and feel so real that i do wake up in panick. i assume its natural but then i second guess if its my mind telling me something. my urges to use have fallen drastically and i see no signs of relapse. i guess im just wondering why these still exist so frequently. pretty much on a nightly basis there is some sort of substance involves in my dream

    • Thanks for that comment Sammy. You are giving a good example of the kind of drug dreams that many people have in early recovery. I know for you 6 months clean seems like a long time but in terms of staying sober for life you have only just begun. This illustrates the way we say that after a period of drug or alcohol use your brain goes over to the other side. The default setting in your brain is to think about using drugs. You have to retrain your brain to think of other things. Not by avoiding thoughts of drugs but by adding positive “I can do this” thoughts. Eventually the “I can do this without the drugs” gets to be a more common thought than the “I want drug’s” thoughts your brain is having. The good part is that these dreams upset you. That gives me hope that you can make it and stay clean. Remember you are in a halfway or sober house. A large part of your life still resolves around drugs and not using them. These repeated reminders can be triggers for the thoughts of using. You can’t run from those triggers. You need to build up the ability to see reminders of it, talk about it or be reminded of it and still not have the desire to use. I would start by talking this through with your sponsor and oh yes, get the sponsors number on any and all your phones and on paper by your bed. Call that sponsor each day so you can just hit redial not have to go looking for a number. Best wishes on your continued recovery.

  6. I have been off street drugs (heroin, crack) for 1 year and off Subutex for 6 weeks and have had a few of these drug dreams that have made me extremely angry and scared when I wake up. They always involve my brother who is still and addict trying to get me back on drugs and in the dreams I reluctantly cave in. I never see him anymore and it really frustrates me as I feel a deep sense of guilt after the dream even though I know I wont use again as they don’t interest me at all as they only bought me misery and I have too much to lose. It seems I have these dreams after I have a really good day as if my mind is telling me don’t get too carried away its only early days but I do know I won’t use again. Is there any medative techniques or cognitive behaviour therapy to stop these dreams?, they just make me angry that my subconcious mind is a weak bitch and I wake up pissed off for about an hour!. I understand they are telling me to stay away from my brother who was waving crack and heroin infront of me on christmas day at my mothers house but I got a massive sense of empowerment by telling him “fuck off ” on that day and I thought I was strong, why is my unconcious mind not as strong then!?. Thank you

    • You unconscious, I as I see it will continue to work on this conflict. Getting past the dreams takes time. One way to work on this is to develop ways to ground or center yourself when you wake up. Remind yourself that you are in recovery now and can get through this with out using. Talk this through with a person you trust, a counselor, friend or sponsor. Best wishes and keep moving towards recovery.

      • Thank you for you reply I will talk to someone. I understand what you mean about staying grounded. Thank you.

  7. I been clean for about over 3 years. I moved to a different state and associate with drug free people. I been having dreams about the choice of drug use (crystal meth) that I used to do. And in my dream I’m either smoking it or trying to hide it. Sometimes I see my mom or sister doing it when they have never in their life done any type of drugs. Then I feel scare, betrayed, and try everything for them not to do it. I see myself sometimes physically abusing my daughter in mydream after using the drug. Then I wake up with my heart beating so fast. What does this kind if dreams mean??

    • Dreams can have very personal meanings and it may pay for you to talk this through with a therapist in your area. From this brief description my thought is that you are feeling both scared and want them to not do what you have done. You also see things that you could do if you were still on the drug. My guess is that your brain is working through all the possible consequences of a possible return to use and trying to protect you from a relapse. This may mean you need to work on repairing the wreckage your drug use has had on your family and their relationship. Keep working on staying clean and sober and on building a positive support system. Recovery, especially from Meth takes a lot of time. Best wishes and thanks for reading and commenting.

  8. Pingback: 5 Possible Meanings of Your Drug Dreams — Palm Partners Blog

  9. Hi, I am really suprised to see the number of people going through this also! i thought it was only me… i am over 2 years clean from heavy I.V use, of many sorts of drugs, and lately i have been having the dreams again… for a while after i first got clean i would have the dreams alot.. almost nightly. and they seemed to stop happening.. well they came back, they had never quite fully went away.. but they have been coming back more frequently. i think last month i had 3-5 dreams about it..

    I know it will not cause me to relapse but its just troubling to me…

    Is there any advice you can give me on this? i know it takes time, will they haunt me like this for the rest of my life? I have never slept good at night, usually have weird messed up dreams or ”nightmares” but i would take those dreams over shooting up bathsalts or smoking crack anyday…

    thank you in advance!!

    • Generally these dreams fade away as time goes on. I am not surprised when drug dreams continue for about 5 years. that seems to be the length of time it takes many peoples brains to heal. Poor sleep can create or add to emotional problems, so do all you can to get a good nights sleep. Writing down the dreams the second you wake up and then talking them over with a counselor, therapist or sponsor can also help. Best wishes on your continued clean and sober life.

  10. I have accomplished 1 year 6 months clean. in the beginning of my recovery i was having these dreams almost nightly. Now they have slowed down to almost monthly one thing i can say is the these dreams are different than other dreams they seem so real to me that in the morning it almost feels like i have gotten no sleep at all. They are extremely draining i absolutely wake up feeling scared, tired and exhausted from all the energy that i spend with in my dream. Last night i had a dream that i had relapsed on one of my past addiction to rock cocaine, when i was using i basically worked up the latter of drugs in my case it was marijuana, cocaine, rock cocaine, and ultimately looking for a bigger and longer lasting high my road ended at methamphetamine. Once i was hooked on meth, i only used marijuana to deal with the come down of meth so not really using marijuana as a daily dose. Rock cocaine i can honestly say was my worst addiction i have ever had to anything in this world i was able to recover from that 3 year long addiction 4 years ago. For some reason i told my self if i was not using rock cocaine any more i did not have a problem and i would be able to smoke marijuana, take exctasy at parties, and do a lil powder cocaine every once in a while since the high only lasted a few hours. Boy was i wrong when i could not find cocaine and wanted to stay up all night at these parties i ended up dropping exctasy and snorting meth that was the perfect party drug cocktail i could ever put together. On Christmas Day 2012 i finally got it together and realized that my addiction to drugs will always be extreme and looking for the higher, faster and longer type of drugs. I said to myself i need to stop because to be honest i will never be satisfied and be content with the drugs i’m using since my track record clearly shows that i looking for something more. These dreams only seem to remind me of the trap i was in while using i have never felt so FREE in my life since the age of 14 the day i started using my first drug. Just wish they did not drain me so much hope they stop soon i’m so over using drugs period…… thanks for listening =)

  11. I have over 20 years living clean and sober. I’m currently experiencing disturbing, recurring dreams where I use! I wake up feeling very deflated and upset. For my situation, the dreams are likely a reminder for me to become more active in my recovery, and not take it for granted.

    • That sounds like a reasonable interpretation of your dream. Recovery of any kind should not be taken for granted. What ever got you clean, sober or restored to sanity is something you need to keep doing in one way or another for the rest of your life. Thanks for reading and for leaving the comment.

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