Using In Your Sleep: What Your Waking Self Can Do


Sober Recovery Expert Author

You wake up, drenched in sweat and terrified that you’ve finally relapsed. You immediately jump out of bed and run to the bathroom, throwing water over your face, ashamed at what you’ve done. After catching your breath, you look around for a moment and realize that it’s three in the morning. It was all a dream.

Dreams of using drugs or alcohol like this are common in recovery. For some of us, these nocturnal scares are consistent. For others, they occur a couple times in the beginning and then slowly disappear. In every case, the question remains: what do we do once we’re awake?

Nightmares are an entirely new beast in recovery, especially when they involve drugs or alcohol. Find out how to stay on the right path, even when your dreamworld doesn't.

Pros and Cons

When I would talk about my using dreams to fellow members of the program, it was often just a big joke. “Those are the best dreams,” they would say. “You get to get drunk without actually drinking!” Of course, that joke may be funny after thirty years of sobriety, but using dreams in the beginning stages of recovery can understandably be too much to handle. At that stage, they are too real to brush away.

As with anything, there’s a good and bad side to a situation. Using dreams can be either positive or negative to your recovery, depending on perspective.

Positive aspects:

  • They are a reminder that a relapse is there if you allow it to happen.
  • They keep the negative effects of using drugs or alcohol fresh in your memory.
  • Subconsciously, you could be reminiscing about drugs or alcohol. The dreams can give you the opportunity to speak with a trusted friend or sponsor. There may be steps you need to backtrack on.

Negative aspects:

  • If the dreams display positive memories, they can be triggers and fool you into thinking of the “good times.”
  • Seeing old friends in the dreams may lead you to contacting them which can eventually send you into a relapse.
  • If you continue having these dreams, it can be said that you may not be working the program properly. Again, talking with your sponsor can help you figure out if you’ve missed a step somewhere along the way.

How to React

We often ignore dreams because they’re either untrue or unrealistic. When I wake up after a using dream, I look around, make sure that I’m awake and notice my surroundings. Even if the dream only seemed real for a brief second, I still repeat the serenity prayer and give thanks that I am waking up in my own bed without a relapse.

It’s important to stay aware of these dreams. If they are occurring on a daily basis, it can be a sign that your mind or body is not focusing on the program or recovery. When I first got sober, I had using dreams consistently and eventually gave in to my triggers. I also realized that I had relapsed from these dreams because I was only doing what my sponsor told me and not an extra inch more. Using dreams may be normal, but if they are all you think about each time they occur, getting help should be your first step in trying to change your dream pattern.

What to Do

Although you cannot control your dreams, you can certainly control what you do afterwards. Here are some practical tips to help the rest of your waking hours:

  • Wake up, shake it off and continue on your normal daily routine.
  • Go to a morning meeting to help you get anything off of your chest that you may be holding onto.
  • Don’t dwell on the dream, especially if it may be a trigger.
  • Be sure to maintain a positive attitude.
  • Change things up before going to sleep. If you’re watching sad movies every night before bed, this could be the reason that you’re having dissatisfying dreams.
  • Try reading a book or engage in an activity that makes you happy.

It’s almost inevitable to have at least one using dream during recovery, but knowing how to handle these dreams can help prevent a real relapse from occurring. That’s something both you and your dream self can appreciate.

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