Summary: A new study reports relapse dreams are more common in those with severe clinical histories of addiction. Researchers say the frequency of these relapse dreams decrease as the brain and body adapt to abstinence.
Source: Mass General.
Vivid dreams involving drinking and drug use are common among individuals in recovery. A study from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Recovery Research Institute, published in the January issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment after online release in October 2018, finds these relapse dreams are more common in those with more severe clinical histories of alcohol and other drug problems.
“Anecdotally, the occurrence of drinking and drug-using dreams is a known phenomenon among people in recovery, but very little is known from an epidemiological standpoint about the prevalence of such dreams, their relation to relapse risk, and how they decay with time in recovery,” says lead author John F. Kelly, PhD, founder and director of the Recovery Research Institute. “Given that these dreams can be deeply unnerving, more information could help treatment providers, those in recovery and their families know what to expect going forward.”
Recovery from every kind of substance use disorder – alcohol, heroin, cocaine, cannabis – has been characterized by dreams that follow a common pattern: in the dream the person has a drink or ingests their primary substance. They experience disbelief and are overcome with fear, guilt and remorse until they wake up, relieved to realize it was only a dream.
Among a nationally representative group of more than 2,000 people who had resolved a significant alcohol or drug use problem, around one-third reported having experienced relapse dreams after entering recovery. The frequency of such dreams lessened the longer an individual was in recovery.
“We found that the individuals in recovery who reported at least one such dream had received help from treatment and mutual-help organizations in the past, reflecting a more serious clinical disorder and impact on the central nervous system,” says Kelly, who is the Spallin Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Field of Addiction Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Reports of relapse dreams are so common in clinical and recovery support service settings that Kelly and co-author M. Claire Greene, PhD, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, were surprised that the majority of those studied reported never having experienced one. Those who did tended to have had more severe substance use histories.
“The association between the decreasing frequency of these dreams and the length of time in recovery suggests that, as the body and mind gradually adapt to abstinence and a new lifestyle, psychological angst about relapse diminishes,” Kelly says. “REM sleep and deep wave sleep undergo important changes, even long after people enter recovery, and these relapse dreams may be indicative of the healing process and brain-mind stabilization that occurs with time in recovery.”
About this neuroscience research article
Funding: This study was funded by an anonymous donor to the MGH Recovery Research Institute.
Source: Deborah Halber – Mass General Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com. Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain. Original Research: Open access research for “The reality of drinking and drug using dreams: A study of the prevalence, predictors, and decay with time in recovery in a national sample of U.S. adults” by John F. Kelly, and M. Claire Greene in Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Published January 21 2019. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2018.10.005
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[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Mass General”Drinking and Drug Use Dreams During Recovery Linked to More Severe Addiction History.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 13 February 2019. <https://neurosciencenews.com/addiction-recovery-dreams-10735/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Mass General(2019, February 13). Drinking and Drug Use Dreams During Recovery Linked to More Severe Addiction History. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved February 13, 2019 from https://neurosciencenews.com/addiction-recovery-dreams-10735/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Mass General”Drinking and Drug Use Dreams During Recovery Linked to More Severe Addiction History.” https://neurosciencenews.com/addiction-recovery-dreams-10735/ (accessed February 13, 2019).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
The reality of drinking and drug using dreams: A study of the prevalence, predictors, and decay with time in recovery in a national sample of U.S. adults
Background The meaning of unconscious dreaming has been assigned varying degrees of historical significance throughout the ages and across different cultures including in major psychological theories of psychopathology. While dreams’ meaning and implications have remained controversial, not disputed is the occurrence of drinking/drug-using dreams (DDUD) when people enter recovery from a significant alcohol and other drug (AOD) problem. Typically taking the form of a relapse scenario followed by relief on awakening, such dreams can be profoundly unnerving. Beyond common anecdotal reports of these phenomena, however, very little is known about the prevalence, predictors, and decay of such dreams with time in recovery. Greater knowledge could help inform patients and providers about what to anticipate in recovery.
Method Nationally-representative cross-sectional study of US adults (N = 39,093) who had resolved a significant AOD problem (weighted n = 2002). Measures: DDUD prevalence/time since last DDUD; demographics; measures of clinical history.
Results Approximately one third (31.9%) reported experiencing DDUD which were predicted by more severe clinical history variables (earlier age of onset; prior treatment/mutual-help participation). A significant linear decay of DDUD occurrence was observed with time in recovery.
Conclusions DDUD appear to occur among a substantial minority of US adults resolving significant AOD problems and are related to a more pronounced and deleterious AOD history. DDUD attenuate in frequency over time in recovery which plausibly may be indicative of increased biopsychosocial stability that reduces neurocognitive reverberation and psychological angst regarding relapse risk. Further prospective research is needed to understand the frequency, topography, content variability, and influence such dreams may have on intermediate (e.g., abstinence self-efficacy) and ultimate (substance use) outcomes.