Dreams of Drinking

There have been no scientific studies on the significance of drinking/using dreams that I know of. An informal series of conversations with people in recovery reveals that using dreams are very common, especially in the early stages of recovery from drug or alcohol dependence. Nearly everyone who is sober reports having had at least one of these dreams in the past.

It also seems that few people can recall having these sorts of dreams when they were drinking and using. It is known that drugs and alcohol interfere with the normal REM sleep patterns and reduce the quality and duration of sleep. Late in the process of addiction, sleeplessness is usually severe and many people report having to take something “to fall asleep”. What follows is not normal sleep but really a chemical coma or sedation which is sure to wear off and in fact disturbs normal the sleep pattern.

Sigmund Freud thought dreams were the realm of the unconscious Id and usually had some sexual significance. Carl Jung believed that some dreams were favorable (produced happy feelings) and others were unfavorable and served as warnings. Much has been written about the implications of our dreams, including the idea of ignoring their content altogether.

Sometimes these dreams seem to come at periods of increased stress. Alternatively, they may come when life of going along smoothly. There does not seem to be any correlation between waking life and dreaming life with regard to using dreams. If there is a connection, it seems to be that only sober people have these dreams.

For the sober person, ignoring the dream is, in my opinion, a dangerous choice. Personally I have had several of these dreams, though far fewer the longer it has been since I stopped using. The residual feelings after awakening from the dream are always very unpleasant. Typically I won’t remember using but will recall the dream from the point of trying to “cover-up” the event. Severe guilt, fear and shame are the breakfast-in-bed menu of feelings. The feelings are identical to those of having used. When besieged with feelings like these, the alcoholic typically keeps them to herself so as not to burden others with her anxieties. These old behavior patterns can lead to a resumption of drinking.

While a dream is only a dream, the mind of the just-awake sober person is sure the events of the dream are real. First feelings are to keep the dream to your self. Keep it secret. Recently I dreamt that I had been drinking and knew I had to share it in my home recovery group. In the dream I was looking for a far away meeting to report being a newcomer again as I didn’t want my friends to know that I had been drinking. In my dream I had to tell on myself, but not to the people I am accountable to: my friends, sober friends and family.

Upon sharing this dream with my sober friends, I felt relieved and it opened the door for more drinking-dream discussions in my home group. From the above discussion you can take-home three pertinent ideas: a) drinking dreams are normal in sober people, b) they do not mean you are about to drink, and that c) others can and will share their experiences if they are sought.


Category: Neuroscience, You Don't Need Rehab

About the Author: Dr. Jason Giles is certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine and the American Board of Anesthesiology. He is a physician specializing in the treatment of drug, alcohol, and behavioral addictions. He is the founder of Haywire.

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