Many people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction have had a similar kind of dream. In the dream, they drink or use drugs, immediately feel remorse or disbelief, then wake up and feel relieved it was only a dream. People are understandably concerned about these dreams. Is it a sign of things to come? Is it a sign that deep down you really just want to drink or use drugs again?

Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital Recovery Research Institute wanted to learn more about relapse dreams, so they looked at more than 2,000 people who had resolved a significant substance use problem. They found that about a third of this group reported at least one relapse dream since starting recovery.

There seemed to be two main factors influencing whether someone had a relapse dream: the intensity of the substance use issue and how long the person had been in recovery. Relapse dreams were more common among patients who had sought help for substance use, either in the form of professional treatment or a 12-step program. In other words, if you’ve been through addiction treatment, there’s a high probability that you’ve had relapse dreams. And the longer someone was sober, the less likely she was to have a relapse dream.

Rather than predicting imminent failure, the researchers speculated that relapse dreams may actually be a part of the healing process. REM sleep is when your brain consolidates new memories and skills, among other things. If you’ve been using drugs or alcohol heavily for years, it can take a long time to unlearn those behaviors. What’s more, if you’re focused on recovery, you may be anxious about the possibility of a relapse and that anxiety may become apparent in your dreams. In other words, you may be dreaming about relapse because deep down, you really do want to stay sober.  

Relapse dreams can be distressing, but they’re typically nothing to worry about. It may help to write them down and analyze them or talk about them with your group or therapist. It’s better to examine the feelings around these dreams than to suppress them. And ultimately, what happens is up to you. Most people can’t reliably control their dreams but you have far more control over what you do in waking life. If relapse dreams have you worried, talk to someone about it and make sure you’re engaged with the recovery process.


At Alta Lama Transformational Services, you will meet knowledgeable, compassionate professionals that understand addiction in all its forms.  Alta Lama uses an integrative and holistic approach to treat addiction and mental health issues. No treatment is one-size-fits-all, where you will have a team of experts prepared to create your customized treatment plan.  We offer care for your mind, body, and spirit, so that you can heal from the inside out and look forward to a lifetime of sobriety and wellness. If you are ready to take the first step in your recovery, please call us at 866-457-3843.