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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