Using Dreams as a Tool for Recovery

drinking dreams nightmare

“Your vision will become clear only when you look inside your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens…” Carl Jung

Did you ever wake up and try to sort out what you were dreaming about? Sometimes we wake up from a vivid dream and it takes a few moments to realize these moving pictures in our head were just a reverie and not a real event. For people in recovery, this often feels frightening and too real. Right down to the part where someone says, “I woke up and could actually taste the wine I was about to drink.” *


Where do these drinking dreams come from and what do they mean?


Nobody knows the true purpose of dreaming. Many researchers feel that our nighttime visions are like noise in the background of our minds we are trying to organize. Simply, our brains trying to make sense of unexpected transmissions that happen while we sleep.


Interpretation in Recovery

There is a continuing debate about whether dream interpretation and its expansive symbolism, is valid. With no real understanding of the purpose of dreams, it is hard to argue their true function. Psychotherapist Carl Jung was renowned for changing the way people looked at and interpreted their nighttime visions. Jung also believed that nightmares served as a guide to the waking self. They offer a solution to a problem you are facing in your waking life.


When Clients Sleep …

Many clients in treatment speak of dreams. Sometimes they dream of using again. It is so common that we almost always ask our clients to talk about it. They can struggle with dreams that seem to foreshadow relapse.  When they dream of using, we remind them that we don’t have control over our dreams. And our dreams don’t have control over us.


Some people have vivid and frightening nighttime visions. We reassure them that dreams are just shadows coming from our subconscious. They cannot harm us. Dreams can be particularly disturbing when we cannot recall all the details. It’s too similar to trying to remember all the events that happened when we were in a blackout.


Studies have shown that dreaming about drinking or using drugs during treatment is reflective of a client’s readiness to change. It is suggested that this vision of using or preparing to use is providing a type of opportunity to rehearse new behaviors of change. It can be seen as a positive engagement in the treatment and recovery process.


May you all have sweet dreams!


*Read a journal entry from sobriety blog “Waking Up the Ghost” about what it feels like to have a drinking nightmare.


Author Christine Walkons (MA, LPC, CAADC, CCS-M) is an emeritus Clinical Director for Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers. She has been working in the addiction field for over 30 years, developing residential treatment, outpatient and intensive outpatient programs. Christine lives in Elberta, Michigan among the scenic dunes of Lake Michigan and divides her time between Grand Rapids and her small northern village.