Almost everyone who has become abstinent has had a drinking dream at some point or another. In early sobriety, these dreams are often frighteningly vivid and recurrent, and can leave us feeling as though we have failed somehow in our recovery. Particularly realistic dreams can trigger cravings and, if combined with the sense that we have already gone wrong, can lead to relapse.
The good news is that research has shown those who experience drinking dreams have a higher rate of successful abstinence after six months. Why is this? No one knows for certain. It has been shown that analysis of these dreams can show us reasons we drank, such as to numb emotional pain, or bring emotions into focus, such as being happier since we became abstinent. Whatever the reason, we do not have to feel guilty for dreaming about drinking.
The important thing to remember is that drinking dreams are a normal part of the recovery process. They are common in early sobriety and usually taper off until the sixth month of recovery, though they can continue to occur beyond this. They do not have to end in relapse!
In early recovery (0-6 weeks), these dreams may be particularly vivid and frightening. However, regardless of how realistic the dream is, it is just a dream. As we have very little control, if any, on what we dream, we shouldn't feel guilty for drinking in them. Exercise and avoiding eating, or drinking caffeine-containing beverages, before bed may help reduce the number of dreams we have.
In middle recovery (7-16 weeks), drinking dreams are less frequent for the majority of people, though they can still leave powerful feelings that may persist through the next day. It is important to be wary of relapse on those days. Often, dreams during this period are about choosing whether to drink or not, and can indicate your feelings about those choices.
By late recovery (17-24 weeks), dreaming about drinking becomes even more uncommon. During this stage, and beyond, sudden dreams about drinking can be a message that there is a problem which could result in relapse. It is important to review your action plan and correct anything which seems to have slipped out of focus.
Some things you can do when your dreams become intense and troubling:
- Call for a chat
- Call a counselor, if you have one
- Talk to friends
- Take a break from your normal routine