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.