What are Relapse Dreams? | What They Mean and Why They Happen

What Are Relapse Dreams?

what is a relapse dream

When facing addiction, fear is often embedded in the essence of everyday life. Before recovery, people often live with many different fears that accompany substance abuse. For example, an individual may be afraid of someone finding out about ongoing substance abuse or addictive behaviors. The fear of getting arrested, labeled, or even losing a job may impede users from seeking help. There’s also a very real fear of failure and relapse if recovery treatment plans don’t work. As with most strong emotions, fear can crop up when we least expect it, like while we’re asleep. So what are relapse dreams? In this article, we’re uncovering the truth and fears as they revolve around the nightmare of substance abuse.

An astounding 85% of individuals who receive substance abuse treatment will experience some kind of relapse within the first year.

It’s been said before, but to reinforce the truth about alcohol and drug addiction, recovery is different for everyone. In many respects, relapse is actually part of the process and should not be labeled a failure.

Yes, relapse is common. However,  it doesn’t stop the anxiety and paralyzing fear that can creep in unexpectedly if an individual experiences a  realistic dream of using their drug of choice—one that previously caused guilt, pain, and even shame. Why do they happen,  and what are relapse dreams?

Why Do People Relapse?

what are relapse dreamsTo shed some light on the journey to recovery, it’s important to understand one of the most critical pieces for overcoming addiction: the reality of relapsing. Researchers estimate that more than two-thirds of individuals in recovery relapse within weeks to months of beginning addiction treatment

Due to the high rates of relapse, addiction specialists should work with individuals on creating a solid relapse prevention plan. Through this plan, drug abuse experts can better equip clients with the tools and techniques needed to prevent or manage recurring thoughts of using. Certain high-risk situations make a person more vulnerable to relapsing, such as people, places, or feelings that can trigger drug seeking-behavior.

What happens during recovery?

During addiction recovery, the brain moves through various stages, beginning first with ridding the body of substance toxins. During this initial stage, the brain is still very susceptible to cravings and triggers, which activates a certain compulsion to use. For this reason, it’s imperative for treatment programs to address specific triggers as all will differ from person to person.

In general, long-term treatment is usually essential for long-term recovery, and treatment options should address both substance misuse as well as underlying mental health issues. Taking preventive measures allows clients to anticipate triggers that may result in a relapse and, therefore, avoid them entirely.

How Do Dreams Play a Role in Substance Abuse Recovery?

What are relapse dreams? Why do some recovering from substance abuse have relapse dreams while others don’t? First, it’s important to note that just because you have a relapse dream doesn’t mean you will, in fact, relapse. Experts say that dreams merely represent fragments of reality as our subconscious minds attempt to incorporate memories to process certain emotions such as fear.

If you’ve ever struggled with addiction, using drugs or consuming alcohol likely felt like second nature. In fact, addiction can skew the perception of reality and convince a person that substance use is needed for survival. Over time, these thoughts can bury themselves into unconscious portions of the brain and, thus, it’s no surprise that relapse dreams feel more like reality.

A study produced by the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment worked to uncover the realities of drinking and drug-using dreams. According to the study, about one-third of U.S. adults in recovery report having had drinking or drug-using dreams shortly after stopping substance use. Relapse dreams seem to occur among those more seriously impacted by alcohol and drug use, or similarly, by those who had been using them for a longer period of time.

Factors that Trigger Relapse Dreams

In 2018, a study by the Massachusetts General Hospital Recovery Research Institute closely examined more than 2,000 cases of people recovering from a diagnosed substance use disorder to better understand relapse dreams. The study found that two defining factors determined  the likelihood of an individual in recovery experiencing a relapse dream:

  1. Intensity of the substance use disorder
  2. Length of time a person has been in recovery

If substance use has long been associated with your everyday life, it makes sense that triggers and dreams would pronounce drug use habits once you quit. Similarly, the longer you’ve been in recovery, the less likely you are to dream about relapse.

Facing Fear: Breaking Free from Substance Abuse

dreaming about addiction relapseFor most, the thought of reducing alcohol and drug use and working toward sobriety can be frightening. If you live with the disease of addiction, substances have likely become somewhat of a “trusted friend.” Due to chemical reactions of certain substances, it may be more difficult to overcome substance dependency. However, it is possible. Know that even if you experience a relapse dream, it will not determine your overall success for overcoming addiction.

What are relapse dreams? They represent the healing process and stabilization that happens over time while on the road to recovery. There may be more than one cause for these types of nightmarish visions, including:

  • Triggering events
  • Emotional distress
  • Experiencing cravings

It’s important to voice fears, concerns, and develop techniques to combat specific relapse triggers.

What if Relapse Does Occur?

As mentioned, relapse may be a necessary aspect of recovery. By developing a clear and effective recovery plan, you can help prevent future relapse events. A clear plan should outline ways to care for yourself, both physically and emotionally. It may also mean selecting treatment modalities and programs that are best suited for your lifestyle and ongoing needs.

Other tips to consider for avoiding relapse or bouncing back after relapse include:

  • Being honest with yourself and others
  • Talking about triggers and cravings
  • Developing coping skills for cravings and triggers
  • Practicing emotions and physical self-care
  • Understanding the stages of relapse
  • Learning to deal with negative thoughts and even relapse dreams
  • Breaking ties with other friends who are using
  • Developing health alternatives
  • Visualizing yourself as a sober person

More importantly, consider treating more than substance abuse habits. Well established drug treatment programs should incorporate dual diagnosis care that addresses co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and complex trauma.

AspenRidge Substance Abuse Treatment

relapse dreamsAspenRidge AspenRidge Virtual Care is an online substance abuse treatment program for anyone ready to get sober and stay sober. Our licensed therapist and certified staff members are knowledgeable and supportive. The methodologies deployed through our programs often involve one or more of the tactics we’ve mentioned above, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Group Support
  • Ongoing Individual Therapy
  • Co-Occurring Treatment Options
  • Holistic Treatment
  • 12-Step Programs

We treat a wide range of specific substances through our various programs including:

These methodologies prove to support clients through relapse prevention. More importantly, though, allow yourself room to progress through the treatment process and understand that there may be setbacks along the way.

A relapse dream does not determine whether or not you’re strong enough to recover from substance use disorder. Instead, it serves as confirmation that the hold alcohol and drugs possess is strong and unrelenting. However, confidence and tools to help you overcome this problematic mindset are achievable through a tailored approach provided by the caring experts at Colorado’s AspenRidge Recovery Center.

AspenRidge offers an integrative, evidence-based, and holistic approach to treat substance abuse and a wide variety of addictions, as well as underlying mental health and psychological issues. Our addiction recovery programs are offered in-person or online and are designed to heal the mind, body, and spirit leading to a lifetime of sobriety, health, and wellness. If you’re ready to find healing and restoration through the convenience of technology, please call us today at 720-650-8055.

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