Ways to Cope with Relapse Dreams

Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer at Cliffside Malibu

Dreams have been a mystery since the dawn of consciousness. Why do they occur? What do they represent? What causes the specificities of the dreams? One of the greater mysteries of early sobriety is relapse dreams. They carry all the same questions and tend to vary from person to person in intensity, subject matter and aftereffects.

What are Relapse Dreams in Recovery?

Relapse dreams are typically outlined by a scenario where you begin to abuse substances again in your dreams. Usually, it is the substance that you most commonly consumed during your active addiction phase. Other times it can be a new substance or one that you had tried before. They tend to be hyper-realistic in nature, bringing back people whom you may have gotten high or drunk with, revisiting places you used to frequent to do so, or specific scenarios in which you experienced traumatic events. After waking, you may feel an immense sense of guilt, shame or anxiety caused by the event. Depending on its severity, this feeling may last for a few minutes, a few hours or even a few days in early sobriety. If you are having relapse dreams, do not get discouraged. These dreams happen to nearly everyone and at every stage of sobriety. Fortunately, they tend to become less common as you become more confident and comfortable in your recovery, but that does not mean that they should be ignored. Identifying what may have triggered these dreams or assessing the underlying emotional and mental roadblocks will ease your reaction when they inevitably occur.

Why Might They Occur?

Everyone’s “rock bottom” is different. Your substance abuse history may vary from your peers, as will the severity and frequency of your relapse dreams. This depends on the length, degree of use and variety of substances your active addiction was defined by. As each of these factors increases over the length of your addiction, the magnitude of negative effects and reactions after your relapse dreams also seems to increase. This is usually directly related to the degree of traumatic events that occurred before, during and after your substance abuse.

It is common for those with substance use disorders to have a history of trauma, whether it is from early childhood, adolescence or adulthood. There is also a good chance that individuals who have experienced any number of overdoses or medical emergencies as a direct result of their substance abuse will also exhibit subconscious emotional reactions in attempts to process them. This may also be amplified by any mental health disorders you may be experiencing. These issues more than likely exacerbate the traumatic nature of your relapse dreams.  This is where you can turn to coping mechanisms to help you confront where these amplifiers may be stemming from and what you can do to dampen the effects of these dreams.

Coping Mechanisms for Recovery Dreams

1) Identifying Your Traumas

One of the biggest steps you can take is entering a counseling program of some kind. Seeing a psychiatrist to help identify where you may have experienced unresolved trauma in your past will help you recognize the source of your emotional turmoil and how it affects your reaction to relapse dreams. In regards to treatment-oriented programs, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), intensive outpatient programs and relapse prevention therapy are designed to assist you in managing your mental health in relation to your recovery. These programs can be used to reprogram your outlook on life, create a foundation for your recovery when returning home from treatment and help identify your triggers and warning signs for relapse. After discovering where the emotions may come from, allow yourself to sit in those feelings. You will become more aware of which feelings hold true and which feelings are potentially disposable.

2) Talk to Someone

The sooner you share your experience with someone, the better. Talking to someone in recovery or a recovery specialist will help you realize that this is commonplace. As social creatures, we depend on feeling as if we are not alone, especially in our emotions. Chances are, someone else in recovery has experienced the same general dreams as yourself. Just the act of sharing the content of these dreams will alleviate some of the pressure so that you do not have to bear the burden alone. They can also provide insight as to how they have dealt with them in the past.

3) Remember, It’s Just a Dream

Although relapse dreams tend to be hyper-realistic, they are just dreams.  This realization is important for you to differentiate between the reality of your situation and how your subconscious can try and trick you. This is the nature of the disease of addiction. You went to bed sober and you woke up sober. Whatever happens in between that time should be taken seriously, but it is not a true representation of the progress you will be making.  You cannot control when it will happen or what it will entail; you can only control how you react to it.

No matter what stage of recovery you find yourself in, relapse dreams can be a common occurrence. By seeking assistance to identify the possible causes behind these dreams, you may be able to limit the effects they have on your mental health. Call Cliffside Malibu today at (855) 403-5641 to find out more information about how our programs can help in this process.