During the early sobriety period, although it is not excluded that dreams occur even after years of staying clean, a former alcohol addict will sometimes experience dreams about relapsing. To put it simply, in spite of mustering the inner strength to resist triggers and not return to his former coping mechanism, the subconscious may show him a scenario of relapse during sleep.
Now, Iíd be lying if I said that we know exactly what these reveries imply; the main reason why thereís no single accepted explanation stems from the lack of a unified theory on the function that dreams fulfill.
Basically, while the medical community has determined the exact parts of the brain associated with each sleep state and the dream, they have yet to discover the role they play.
What Are the Main Theories About Dreams?
If you consider the point of view of psychoanalysts, then dreams constitute the subconscious mindís way to achieve goals and desires that are otherwise impossible in the real world.
Thatís not really great news, since a dream about relapse would imply that the brain is still craving alcohol and that youíre in fact at risk of relapsing, but hey, thatís just one way to think about it.
Alternatively, other branches of psychology propose the idea that a dream is a form of entertainment generated based on the activities of the previous day. At the same time, an additional theory states that dreams are a form of coping with the stress and a ďrewardĒ. Based on the latter hypothesis, the association formed by your brain between gratification and alcohol may imply that, in fact, the brain is rewarding you for your achievement to stay sober, the only way it knows how.
So Are These Dreams Normal or Not?
The short answer is yes, and theyíre more frequent than you might think for former alcoholics or drug abusers who managed to stay away from the vice. It has been theorized that excessively stressful events from the day before are likely to increase the chances of having a relapse dream. In addition, having been exposed to triggers that could have caused a real relapse and resisting them may also increase the frequency of the said night reveries.
Are the Relapse Dreams Good or Bad?
Well, neither in fact. As long as you do not sabotage your chances of staying sober while you are awake, the subconscious mind will not make you magically sleepwalk to the store and buy a bottle of Jack, rest assured.
However, what is particularly interesting about these relapse fantasies is that former alcoholics donít wake up from them feeling satisfied. Actually, in most cases, the dreams are followed by a powerful sensation of guilt and disgust, as if the dreams were real. We might just even go as far as to say that the aforementioned post-sleep sensations constitute an indicator that you have the right mindset to stay clean and sober. On the other hand, if the feelings of disgust and guilt are not present, then you should consider reevaluating your recovery process and determine if itís actually working.
Either way, a relapse dream will provide you with useful information about your current state of mind, so itís not all bad!