Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Dreaming About Drugs Or Drinking—What To Do About It?

I’ve had a couple drug dreams lately. It’s been a stressful time—school let out, my kid is home all day, I’ve had to negotiate lots of scheduling issues with my partner. Transitioning into summer is always hard—in fact, any transition is hard for me. Addicts, in general, do not like transitions. I’m the kind of person who likes to eat the same things at the same time of day; I order the same menu items from the few restaurants I go to; I wear the same clothes—dependable ones that look good on me—until they wear out.

The other night I dreamed I had a bunch of fentanyl patches. Part of me doesn’t want to describe what I tried to do with them, because I don’t want to give anybody ideas about how to abuse medication (especially fentanyl, because abusing it can kill you), and I also don’t want to send anybody into euphoric recall. … But another part of me wants to tell you how my senses responded in the dream. Because it helps to be honest with people about what I used to do, and how it used to feel.

When I first detoxed off fentanyl, back in November 2008, I had drug dreams pretty often. It seems to me they happened almost every night, but I don’t think they were actually that frequent—it just SEEMED like they were. My using dreams back then were frantic: in the dream, I’d be searching through stuff in the house, looking for something to make me feel better, and when I found it, my whole body would yearn toward the drugs. (I tried thinking of a better and less corny word than “yearn,” but this is what it felt like. “Yearn” comes from an old Germanic word meaning “eager.”) My whole body bent itself toward the stuff it knew would make it feel better.

It was partly a chemical thing: withdrawal just takes time to get through, and during withdrawal it’s very hard to sleep. Sleep-deprivation is one of the things that prevents a lot of people from making it through to the other side of withdrawal—it’s hard to function during the day if you can’t sleep at night, and when your body knows what will make it easier, it naturally gravitates toward that.

But it was also partly a psychological thing. Pavlovian. I’d trained myself to cope with problems (and also joyful situations) by using drugs. I’d managed the way I felt with chemicals, instead of allowing the feelings to pass. I didn’t want the painful feelings to persist, so I used chemicals to get rid of them; I didn’t want the joyful feelings to leave me, so I used chemicals to try to prolong them—or else to get rid of the fear of the joy leaving me. Of course, in the end, the drugs stopped working, but I clung to the hope that they would work again someday—which is the delusion of addiction, and the insanity, the breakdown of health and wholeness.

And when I’d wake up from the dream, I’d feel mortally disappointed that I hadn’t actually found drugs, that I was on my own again, trying to manage life by myself. (This was before I learned to depend on another power than my own will.) Sometimes I’d cry.

I hadn’t had a dream about using drugs for a long time before I had one a couple weeks ago. In the dream I found these fentanyl patches. Brand-new, shiny-clean, pure drugs. But somehow in the dream I couldn’t touch them. I’d try to touch them and they’d dissolve from view, disappear. Then I’d pull my hand away and they’d reappear. Ephemeral.

So this dream wasn’t actually about USING drugs… it was about the temptation, and the presence of drugs in my mind and consciousness. The fact that my addiction is always with me. The aliveness of it. I don’t exactly imagine it, as they say, “doing push-ups in the parking lot” while I’m at meetings. But as Eminem raps,

This f*cking black cloud still follows me around
But it’s time to exorcise these demons
These motherf*ckers are doing jumpin-jacks now

It’s around. It’s not Gone.

I was sick for a long time, and it takes a lot of discipline to recover from a chronic sickness. People who undergo treatment for cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and other illnesses have to organize their lives around managing their problems. And I don’t buy the argument that people with addiction caused their own problems and people with other illnesses didn’t. Many people with obesity and diabetes today have made a hefty contribution to their problems through their reluctance or refusal to face the fact that they eat too much and they eat foods that cause ill-health. It’s being shown that cancer and hypertension are caused by the disastrous ways Americans eat and drink and use their bodies—or don’t use them.

Blaming is useless, but figuring out the cause-effect relationship leads to the ability to strategize about solutions.

So what do I do when I dream about drugs? Today I first of all wake up and send up a statement of thanks to the Higher Power Of The Day (today my HP is Time) that I didn’t actually use. And then I let it go. My friend Arlene in L.A. used to tell me all the time, when I was newly detoxed, “This Too Shall Pass.”

Life is not about what you feeeel, baby girl,

she’d say, and she was right.

When I was newly detoxed and dreaming about drugs, I used to cling to those feelings of maybe Finding Something Someday. Today I try to let it all slide off me. I hand it over to Time, which will eventually make me forget. I hand it over to Love, which will help me take care of my body and spirit. I hand it over to Common Sense, which tells me:

It’s just a dream.

What do you do when you dream about drugs or drinking?


  1. I’ve also had using dreams. They seemed so real I’d wake up thinking I relapsed. Calling my sponsor would help me immensely. She told me this: using dreams is my subconscious detoxing. From somewhere deep inside of me this ugliness would rise to the surface from my innermost thoughts and then I could look at it, deal with it (talk about it/pray about it), release it, let it go.

  2. guinevere

    June 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    I remember waking up thinking I’d actually used. … What a great image: the subconscious detoxing itself.

  3. Thanks for sharing G.

    My experience on dreams and they way I perceived my dreams were very “moving.” It was “moving” in a way that directly related to how my recovery was progressing. Now I will share with you that I dream in color and that I can taste in my dreams. The last memory I’ve got of tasting was peanut butter and it was “dewicious” (not a typo – it was how a Certified Master Chef I worked with would say it to me). So you can imagine how vivid my using dreams were.

    I’ve been in recovery now over nine and a half years through the program of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. I’ve participated in both programs in many ways as I’ve been taught that there’s a lot to be learned, so “learn” they said.

    Early in recovery I had many “using” dreams. Every dream always stopped short of actually “using” regardless of whether it was smoking marijuana, smoking crystal meth, snorting cocaine or drinking alcohol. I actually had the “stuff” in my hands ready to use and I would wake up. Drove me nuts. I never really analyzed my dreams too deeply until my dreams changed.

    When I began the process of the Twelve Steps with my sponsor I began to change, and so did my dreams. I actually began to “use” in my dreams. I smoked that marijuana. I smoked that crystal meth. I snorted that cocaine and I drank that alcohol. I got loaded in my dreams and my thoughts were, “How am I going to hide this from the people in the rooms.” I would wake up from these dreams thinking I actually got loaded and how am I going to hide this from them, until I realized it was just another dream. I was really relieved that it was a dream.

    How did I perceive the “change” in my dreams. I concluded that because the Twelve Steps have begun to change the very person that I am (selfish, self-centered, full of fear and ego), I actually had a conscience in my dreams. I also concluded that I have “surrendered.” I was full of skepticism about the Twelve Steps and the Program(s) but this changed just solidified the acceptance of “surrender.”

    I know today that I never have to “use” ever again, and I also know that I can. These two thoughts parallel each other, which tells me I am not fighting the “disease.” I’M LIVING WITH IT. I know that the PROGRAM(S) works in all aspects of my life and that tells me that I have absolutely ZERO reservations about the PROGRAM(S) and that equals SURRENDER.

    Thanks for letting me share.

  4. guinevere

    June 15, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Wow, Chef J, what a thought-provoking and insightful response… Interesting that you noticed you had a conscience in the dreams. And a good reminder that we learn to know we never have to use again–and also that we are free to use. Thank you so much for writing. /G

  5. I have dreamed that my wife was drunk. I woke up feeling disturbed and out of sorts. Then I realized that it was a dream. I have learned to let those things go and focus on reality as much as possible. I don’t need to project any more stuff into the day than is real.

  6. thanks for sharing.. mine was i was clean in the dream but had found a chance to use had all i needed and left it till the last minute to administer and when i did i kept stuffing up and it was a big old manic mess of ‘missing ‘.. :'( as it used to sometimes be.. i was confronted with that same sheer desperation i could not wait a second longer .. so i was left in that familiar frustration of wasting the hit.. then apon waking i felt like i was craving something that has left me alone for a while now. i felt guilty i told my husband who relived a moment in history reminding me how desperatly addicted i was.. feeling strange all day.. sometimes i wonder if talking is detremental?? ill see.. i live no where near meetings.. husband is one who wants to forget it as it was so tramatic for me & for the addiction to have left me like that.. (ill write more later kids calling………..

  7. Wow – great post, G. And I loved Chef J’s response. I couldn’t see a place to reply to it directly.

    Believe it or not, I’ve had using dreams, and I’m not even a drug addict. When my daughter, Hayley, was living in the crack house and living a very depraved and desperate life, I used to dream about it – and all sorts of scenarios that involved me. One in particular still haunts me – that her drug addict ‘friends’ held me captive and made me shoot heroin. This dream was terrifying to me – I woke up in a clammy sweat. But, I think it also was a subconscious reflection of my curiosity about and empathy for my daughter’s situation. That initial rush of heroin’s euphoria and subsequent clamp on the user’s will, must be someth’in.
    I’m stepping in to a more intimate, but parallel zone here, in revealing that I’ve had ‘using’ dreams in regards to sex. I was in a wonderfully romantic and sexually satisfying relationship for 11 years. My partner and I have since broken up – and even though I know it’s for the best – and that the sex was, in some ways, a numbing device used to mask some more important incompatibilities, I still have recurring dreams about the intimacy and physical connection. In reality, anything can become a drug, an addiction (either soft or hard), something that is used for pleasure, gratification, and ultimately, to numb yourself to the pain and disappointment of life. Those ‘soft’ addictions – we all have them, don’t we?

  8. I cry I too am an addict 3 weeks from now I will no longer need suboxone to feel normal I to have dreams only in my dreams im teying to get high each time I go to take a hit snort a line ect somethin happends to where I cant get high its like I chase the highs get to it and dont feel it it scares me reading ur story makes me proud of the sober life ill soon live thank you.

  9. Thank u for that puts me at ease a bit 🙂

  10. disqus_N812J3s6om

    October 30, 2012 at 1:26 am

    I used to have dreams about relapsing…one time I dreamed that i was at my great grandmother’s house for Christmas, or some other holiday, and I went in her bathroom and was trying to shoot up heroin in there. I just remembered this dream recently, but I almost thought it really happened for a minute. It makes me sick to think I could even dream about doing that at my grandmother’s. But when I dream about it now…I will be around old friends and I will have the chance to do it again but even in my dreams I just can’t bring myself to do it…I think that might be a good sign!

  11. I think it’s a great sign that you can’t bring yourself to do it. As for using at Grandma’s, Grandma is a safe person (much safer than heroin-shooting buddies), so could it be a way for your subconscious to make you feel safe in the midst of danger? Just a thought.

  12. I am 5 months clean from xanax (after two seperate seizures related to the drug) and I still find myself dreaming about it. I dream that I have a whole stash of bars where I used to hide them and I want to take some but I know I shouldn’t. Last night I had a dream that I was looking behind my dresser for some. I found one and took it but kept looking for more between the cracks of my carpet and my walls, like desperate status. I wanted to google drug dreams because I thought maybe by now they would end! Can honestly say I’m still recovering but I won’t crack

  13. thanks so much for that, i really needed to read that. up until yesturday i had nightmares about using, dealers forcing me to use then last night it changed and i had such a euphoric dream, but then at the end came the guilt, shame and worry of how i was going to hide it and stop again. one worry i did have was in my dream i was controling my using (my dream was a few days if you know what i mean). when i woke up this morning i thanked God that it was just a dream but it was so real. it scares me, maybe thats good cos then i really focus on my recovery.

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