Everyone has had a nightmare at least once in their life. But for those in recovery, having frequent nightmares, or vivid dreams about drug use or drinking alcohol is quite common. According to a recent study from the Massachusetts General Hospital Recovery Research Institute, out of 2,000 people who had alcohol or substance abuse problems, about one-third of them experienced relapse dreams upon starting recovery.
Moreover, the majority of those who had this type of dream had severe substance use histories. Thankfully, the research also found that the dreams became less frequent the longer a person stayed in recovery. If you’re on the road to sobriety and are having nightmares or relapse dreams, here’s what you can do to overcome them.
What Causes Nightmares and Relapse Dreams?
Most people in recovery think that illegal substance or alcohol use is the main reason for having frequent nightmares. This is partly true since alcohol and drugs may cause nightmares and relapse dreams. The American Psychological Association states that having drinking or drug dreams represents the point where the transition from psychological to physical addiction happens. However, the APA also said that nightmares could be the result of PTSD or child abuse, which is common in people with addiction problems.
On top of all these, other factors could also cause bad dreams in people who are in recovery. Stress, anxiety, depression, and certain psychological triggers could also cause nightmares. Lack of sleep, poor health, and underlying medical conditions may also cause frequent bad dreams. Since nightmares can have a negative impact on one’s quality of life, it is important to pinpoint the root cause of these dreams and take steps not to make them worse.
Coping with Bad Dreams
Individuals who are working on their sobriety may think that sleeping less or not sleeping at all is the key to avoid having nightmares or relapse dreams. But since lack of sleep can worsen nightmares, it’s important to approach this matter in a reasonable and healthy way. For instance, talking to a therapist or counselor can help to identify certain worries and issues that are causing anxiety. Eating heavy snacks, reading scary books, or watching horror movies and videos before bedtime should also be avoided so as not to trigger bad dreams. Taking over the counter sleep aids should also be a no-no. Instead, create a bedtime routine that promotes better sleep.
Try turning off gadgets, doing a mindful activity such as yoga or coloring, or taking a relaxing bath at least two hours before bedtime. You could also listen to soothing music and have a comfort item, such as a favorite pillow or plushy within reach if that makes you feel more at ease. If nightmares persist, look into getting sleep therapy or ask your doctor about undergoing a sleep study.
Having nightmares or relapse dreams can make recovery more difficult for individuals who want to live a sober lifestyle. By talking about your worries and improving your sleep routine, you can reduce the frequency of bad dreams and wake up feeling refreshed. You may also want to consult a professional if nightmares persist.