The Nightmare of “Drinking Dreams”

This blog uses excerpts from “In dreams…an illness that never sleeps!”


A main purpose of this blog  The Alcoholics Guide to Alcoholism is to provide some explanation or answers to the experience of early recovery form alcoholism and addiction.

To provide some insight into  the sometimes very difficult days of early recovery.

The initial days and weeks or recovery were for me some of the most challenging in recovery and I found that recovery got better and better after these at times exasperating and at times frightening and confusing first weeks.

If we can hang in there, we find things get better and fairly soon.

So here I will blog for the next week on some of the issues that very much bothered me in early recovery.

I want to give some answers that I wish had been available to me at the time so that you do not have to agonize over psychological processes which are natural, automatic and sometimes unavoidable to the early days of recovery.

I want you to know you are not alone in feeling what you are feeling, experiencing what you are experiencing in early recovery.

Hopefully this week’s blogs can be a guide through some of the issues of early recovery.

We have all gone through what you are going through, and came through as you can too!

Let’ start with “drinking dreams” – having dreams in which I was drinking alcohol was very common in the first weeks and months of recovery.

They used to terrorize my sleeping hours. I would fortunately  always drink to drunkenness in these dreams and rarely at “one of two” and left it at that, although in later recovery I have had this type of dream too.

I would either awake from this drinking dreams, terrified by their content, or would awake in the morning extra tired that I had had  a number of these drink-based dreams in the night.

They greatly troubled me – why was I having them, did I really still want to drink?

Was I actually committed to recovery at all? Was I kidding myself, did I simply just want to drink?

And not want to be in recovery?

Talking to my sponsor and other recovering alcoholics reassured me I was not alone and made me realise that drinking dreams were very common to alcoholics especially in the early  weeks and months of recovery.

In later years I still have the odd drinking dream but this is usually when I am very anxious or worried about something and my anxiety goes and ketches the symbols I am most frightened of, which is my fear of ever drinking again.

In the last year, I have come across a great article to help newcomers in early recovery with understanding “drinking dreams”.

According to this study – drinking dreams in recovering alcoholics is not a sign of wanting to drink again but the very opposite – drinking dreams are the sign of being completely motivated not to drink and stay abstinent and in recovery!

“It is often said that we have an illness of addiction that never rests..

In the early weeks and months (years) of recovery I often had “drinking” dreams  in which I would dream about drinking alcohol. In early recovery these used to scare the life out of me and confuse me greatly. Did I still want to drink?

The study (1) we cite today shows the opposite that “that alcoholics would have more drinking dreams if they wanted to stay sober and that to dream of drinking was a good indicator of continued abstinence.” 

The drinking dreams, I later realised,  would normally occur when I was fearful of anxious. They were fear based dreams not appetitive, i.e. they were not about wanting to drink but about being afraid of drinking again.

That would appear to my greatest fear so when I was anxious about something in my daily life, at night I would have dreams about drinking alcohol.

In these early days, fortunately, in the drinking dreams the drinking would have dire consequences and I would get out of control drunk.

Now if I have the odd drinking dream I simply use it as a prompt to look at what is going on emotionally in my life. I have to say that my dreams have increasingly used other symbols of fear and anxiety in recent years, like buildings collapsing, having to save people’s lives etc etc.

I must also be rigorously honest here and state that many of my fear based and drinking dreams occur when I have not done my step 10 properly or thoroughly. A way to a sound sleep is a sound step 10!

Anyway this study (1)  from a few years ago which looked at the dreams of alcoholics. It showed that the self esteem issues that sometimes plague alcoholics in recovery are also present in their dreams although these lessen as time in recovery increases.


“This study focused on people who had self-labelled themselves as ‘Alcoholics.’ They all had a previously previous history of severe alcohol use, but were currently abstinent and recovering in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Moore (1962)  found that alcoholics often dreamt of themselves as victims.

Scott (1968)  found alcoholics reported significantly more dreams about drinking, often associated with guilt.

Scott concluded that alcoholic’s dreams depicted problems, conflicts, insecurity, and sadness…alcoholics were “unable to use their dreams therapeutically as do controls … alcoholics incorporate their feelings of helplessness whilst controls are able to integrate strength into their dreams” (Scott, 1968, p.1317).

Cartwright (1974) predicted that the ‘psychologically healthy’ would have greater continuity between their waking and dreaming life. This is due, in part, to the assumed internal emotional and mental equilibrium that exists in individuals with assumed psychological balance. This early literature suggests that alcoholics in early abstinence, or during hospitalization, may report dream content which is more unpleasant in terms of emotion and themes.

Studies have begun to focus on the reason why drinking dreams appear in alcoholism (or other substance misuse disorders).

Choi (1973) compared those who experienced drinking dreams at 3 months, with those who did not and found that 80% of those who had drinking dreams were still abstinent compared to 18% of those who did not.

He concluded that alcoholics would have more drinking dreams if they wanted to stay sober and that to dream of drinking was a good indicator of continued abstinence.

Denzin (1988) points out, using anecdotal reports from AA members, that drinking dreams are usually fearful, and this may reflect waking preoccupation with the fear of returning to active alcoholism, rather than a desire to return to drinking.


The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous provide a program of self-help where addiction is ‘accepted’ rather than ‘abstained’ from.

The difference between ‘acceptance’ and ‘abstinence’ is the same as the difference between being highly motivated to not drink and being highly unmotivated to not pick up the first drink or drug (Colace, 2004; Berridge, 2001).

This difference would be clearly observed in the self-construal of the ‘recovering’ alcoholics who took part in this study. If drinking dreams are indicative of where the person is in their recovery process, then wanting to drink intermittently is arguably the most natural of states that an alcoholic may find themselves in.

Drinking dreams are not predetermine indicators of relapse: how they act on may be. Rather, the occasional presence of drinking dreams which are accompanied by unpleasant emotional affect, including guilt and remorse are a common part of the recovery process(Marshall, 1995).

Knudson (2003) suggests dreams are seen as indicators of either the past (retrospective), or the present moment (concurrent), but includes a further prospective function used to make positive change.

Using this model, drinking dreams can be seen as indicators of needing to take prospective action, such as increased access to support, talking about these dreams in AA meetings, or with sponsors and therapists (McEwing, 1991; Marshall, 1995).



1. Parker, J., & Alford, C. (2009). The dreams of male and female abstinent alcoholic’s in stage II recovery compared to non-alcholic controls: are the differences significant?. International Journal of Dream Research, 2(2), 73-84.

Is My Neediness linked to My Insecure Attachment?

I am reblogging this blog again, from 6 months ago, because I find it still very pertinent to me at the moment and because another blogger commented on it’s pertinence to them in recovery as well. I have been in recovery a decade and have continually come up against the same issues over and over again. which are namely low self esteem issues, feeling less than or unworthy, and issues of trusting others which I believe to be the consequence of my own insecure attachment to my mother when growing up. As I will be blogging this week again about the power scars of the past can still exert on me I thought I would kick off with a well received blog from the end of last year. Unfortunately the issues seem as raw and resonant today as when I wrote this 6 months ago. I think this is because my awareness of attachment issues has risen throughout my recovery and I am probably the best placed I have ever been to delve, more deeply into these issues, however reluctantly. The same record playing in my head has become a bit boring over the months and years. It is also important to realise that there is an “earned attachment” out there with other recovering people too, helping others helps me, showing love helps me receive love etc. A secure base can be found in serving others. This is what I intend to do increasingly over the next 6 months. I intend to keep you all up to date with how it goes too. Perhaps we can only rewire our brains by changing our behaviours – perhaps to get the love we needed as children we have to show that love to others as adults. Perhaps we have to get what we need by giving it away? Paul x

The Alcoholics Guide to Alcoholism

I don’t know about you but I have previously been described on occasion, and still can be, as being a bit needy, a bit grasping of affection, a bit manipulative in attempting to coerce others into given me attention, affection and so on.

It is not a trait that I particularly like in my self. I believe it is directly linked to my insecure attachment based on an uncertain, unpredictable and sometimes conditional relationship I had with my mother, in particular.

My mother was affectionate at times, distant at others. You could never really count on her being there for you.

Her affection  seemed dependent (conditional) on how she felt. Given that she was probably experiencing some form of mental breakdown and had already started taking the Valium that would in later years become full blown dependence would explain her ambivalence to me and my emotional needs.

I have forgiven my…

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Life In Recovery Surveys – Australia, USA and the UK

“Recovery introduced me to myself. The hardest but most rewarding journey I have ever undertaken.”

Recovery from alcohol and drug addiction is now widely recognised as a journey that takes place over time and in a multitude of ways that reflect personal circumstances, supports and resources.”


The Australian Life in Recovery Survey, conducted by Professor David Best of Sheffield Hallam University and Turning Point in partnership with South Pacific Private, is the largest survey of its kind in Australia.

This survey provides an important first glimpse into the lives of people in recovery through comparisons of key domains of life and wellbeing during active addiction and after seeking recovery.

Additionally, comparisons are drawn to the U.S. version of the survey sponsored by Faces & Voices of Recovery. Just click image below for the findings.


The first ever survey in the UK into Life in Recovery is also in the process – please click this link and contribute if you can?


Understanding recovery greatly helps with reducing the stigma attached with suffering from an addictive disorder. Please help?

The survey will be open until the 30th June 2015.


Life in Recovery Survey UK 2015


Please click to refer to the infographic of and the introduction to the survey results from the Australian survey.

and click here for the findings and report –

Part 1


Just over half of those who participated were female (54.6%), and the average age of participants was 43.6 years (although the range was from 15 to 76 years). The vast majority of participants lived in Australia (97.3%) although small numbers of participants completed the survey who lived in the US, Europe, Indonesia and South Africa.

Participants were educated to varying degrees – just over 40% had a university qualification. Occupational status varied markedly across the group with just under half (44.6%) employed full time, 19.8% employed part-time, 5.8% self-employed and 5.4% students. In other words, 75.6% were involved in employment or education with the remainder retired (5.6%), involved in home duties (3.2%) and unemployed or on disability support pension (15.7%).



Participants were asked about their primary addiction – for 35.3% this was alcohol only

for 11.1% it was drugs only

and for 53.6% it was both drugs and alcohol.

Nonetheless, the primary problem substance was predominantly alcohol (for 66.0% of participants)

followed by heroin and other opiates (14.1%),

methamphetamines (4.2%),

cannabis (3.7%),

cocaine (2.9%),

other amphetamine type substances (1.9%)

and pharmaceutical opioids (1.9%).

Participants had typically experienced lengthy addiction careers – reporting an average of 18.6 years of AOD use (ranging from 1 to 47 years) and an average of 12.5 years of active addiction (ranging from 1 to 47 years).

There was a significant rate of adverse life events reported across the participants with 91.5% reporting life time mental health challenges and 56.8% reporting some current involvement in mental health treatment.

In contrast, current wellbeing was rated positively on the three wellbeing scales…

What this means is that participants were generally in a positive space although some participants had poor wellbeing across all three indicators.

At the time of the interview, 298 participants (52.0% of the overall sample) were receiving help or treatment for mental health problems.

What is clear is that this diminishes over time – while 86.1% of those in the first three years of recovery are receiving some form of help or treatment for emotional or mental health problems, this is the case for 58.0% of those between three and ten years in recovery and 33.5% of those more than ten years into their recovery journeys.”

To be continued…

In a nutshell

Following on from Monday’s blog a visual representation of what I was trying to say.

Love and tolerance of others is our code. the Big Book, page 84.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone.



Recovering the Real Self

It is often said that alcoholics and addict fear nothing more than rejection. Little did I know this is based on a maladaptive self schema many addicts carry, even in recovery.

It has always been an “achilles heel” of mine and I often thought people were rejecting me when they were doing nothing of the sort. They were either just disagreeing with me, having a different viewpoint.

So why such a heightened sensitivity to perceived feeling of rejection from others.?

I came across this study which was fairly revealing on the subject (1).

“The aim of this study was to compare early maladaptive schemas and attributional styles in addicts and non-addicts to recognize their role in addiction.

In this causal-comparative study, 200 addicted and non-addicted men were randomly selected. Young early maladaptive schema and attributional styles questionnaires were used.

Early maladaptive schemas (EMSs) are chronically self-defecting emotional and cognitive patterns that develop early in life. They are the causes of many psychological disorders. Maladaptive schemas and inefficient ways the patient learns to adapt with others often lead to chronic symptoms of anxiety, depression and substance abuse.5

Based on the revised model of learned helplessness theory, another factor that increases a person’s vulnerability is attributional style which means how individuals explain different events.

If a person attributes a bad event to a stable, internal, and global cause, it can result in learned helplessness (LH).6

Some researchers showed that LH is the core of psychopathology and a predictor of successful treatment for substance abuse.

According to findings, addicted and non-addicted men are significantly different in all 15 EMSs, i.e. addicts suffer from higher levels of EMSs. Kirsch5 made similar conclusions.

Ball and Young, as well as Cullum, suggested that schemas have an important role in successful treatment of addiction.13,14 Young et al. also found many schemas related to substance abuse.15

Among schemas domains, the first domain (rejection/disconnection) obtained the highest scores.

Bosmans et al.16 indicated that psychopathology is perfectly related to this domain. Likewise, Brummett found rejection/disconnection domain linked to more problems and also positively related with psychopathology indicators such as substance abuse.

Aimee suggested this domain to be more sever in substance abusers.4

These findings are consistent with Iranian researchers such as Haghighat manesh and Lotfi.18,19 Compared to normal people, sex offenders had higher EMS scores.18

Comparing means of attributional styles of addicts and non-addicts showed significant differences between optimistic and pessimistic attributional styles, i.e. addicts were more pessimistic and developed LH more. These findings are consistent with studies conducted by Haj Hosseini, and also Garcia et al.,20,21

Other findings show pessimistic addicts were more likely to return to substance abuse.6 We also found a direct relationship between LH and successful addiction treatment. Therefore, addicts who suffered more from LH were less successful in treatment and more likely to relapse to substance abuse.

Correlation between EMS and pessimistic attributional style in addicts revealed positive relationships between pessimism and defect/shame, dependence/incompetence, and emotional inhibition schemas. Therefore, more pessimistic addicts had more sever schemas. In addition, Pearson correlation between LH and EMS in addicts indicated direct relationships between LH and entitlement, emotional inhibition, dependence/incompetence, failure, defect/shame, social isolation, abandonment, and emotional deprivation. These findings are consistent with Aimee’s research which found dependence/incompetence schema related to LH.4 Similarly, Hoffart and Sexton, and Tarquinio also suggested that since emotional deprivation, mistrust/abuse, social isolation vulnerability to harm and compliance were related to pessimism.22,23


This study certainly highlights a number of desriptions of many addicts and alcoholics I have seen and been, especially in early recovery (and still on a bad day!).

It may be not so much an alcoholic personality that drives addiction but maladaptive self schemas, which act to propel self fulfilling prophesies of further addictive behaviour.

It is how we feel about about ourselves that seems to determine who we will act in relation to ourselves. Again feelings feed our addiction or our recovery.

We can alter these schemas fundamentally however and profoundly via among other things the 12 steps and other treatments such as schema therapy.

Recovery in simple terms is a change is schema for addicted self schema to recovery self schema. From feeling helpless, vulnerable, dependent,  pessimistic to  the opposite of these feelings.

This is why an addict needs to  fundamentally change in recovery.


1. Shaghaghy F, Saffarinia M, Iranpoor M, Soltanynejad A. The Relationship of Early Maladaptive Schemas, Attributional Styles and Learned Helplessness among Addicted and Non-Addicted Men. Addiction & Health 2011;3(1-2):45-52.



Recovering from Stigma

New post on The Alcoholics Guide to Alcoholism

Recovering from Stigma

by alcoholicsguide

Our last blog “Addicts continue to Face Widespread Stigma”looked at the stigma towards addicts that still prevails in much of society.

As addiction can often seem to be fuelled at times by negative emotions such as guilt and shame, societal  stigma towards addicts and alcoholics may have a negative effect on seeking treatment and on recovery itself.

It stops addicts accepting their condition and in seeking help for it, in other words.

I came across an article from a couple of years ago that looks at how addicts even in initial stages of treatment, in detox and assessment, begin to recover from maladaptive self schemata, the type of negative self schema that societal views help perpetuate.

These schemata are partly shaped by how society reflects them. Hence in recovery it is essential to move from a maladaptive negative self perception and self schema to a more accepting, positive and realistic self schema of being a person in recovery. That of an ill person getting better.

This is often called a recovering self schema or sometimes called a spiritual self schema.

Thus it is essential for those addicts who do recover to move from a negative sense of self to a more positive sense of self – from an ill self schema to a recovering self schema. From being a negative using to a positive recovering self schema.

In fact this can also be translated into memory associations of the past too with positive memory associations of drug use being transformed into more realistic negative memory associations. These memory networks along with schemata play a huge role in recovery. In fact one feeds of the other. I feel good about myself and negative about the effects alcohol and drugs had on me, my family and wider society. This is useful to my recovery. Accepting me and the wreckage alcohol and drugs played on my life.

Self schemata are the vehicles by which we drive our lives, they are how we regulate our selves, our attitudes and behaviours.

Unless we develop a positive recovering self schema it will be very difficult to remain in recovery.

We have to have some emotional self catharsis, some spiritual awakening, some realigning of how we feel and think about ourselves and those around us, the society around us (regardless of how it feels about us).

It does not matter what the society thinks about us, their views are often based on ignorance and not having to live with or around addiction. As communities of recovering people we help with this catharsis, this chrysalis effect, this transformation from what we thought we were to what we think we are now.

This study (1)  ” The Self Schema and Addictive Behaviours; Studies on Alcoholic Patients.” shows how people with alcoholism in the initial stages of treatment move from a negative to a positive view of themselves.

The subjects had to perform three tasks that required manipulating personality traits with positive and negative connotations (a self-description task in which decision time was measured, an autobiographical task, and a recall task). The results of the first interview showed that (1) in their self-descriptions, alcoholics took more time than control subjects both to accept positive traits and to reject negative ones, (2) unlike control subjects, alcoholics considered more negative traits to be self-descriptive than positive traits, and (3) unlike controls, alcoholics recalled more negative traits than positive ones.

By the second interview, the results for the alcoholic subjects on the autobiographical and recall tasks had changed: (1) they now described themselves more positively and less negatively than on the first meeting, (2) they recalled a marginally greater number of positive traits and a significantly smaller number of negative traits, and (3) the differences between the alcoholics and controls indicated an improvement in the alcoholics’ self-perceptions.

“Persons who are perceived negatively by society, especially ones who belong to social minorities, may be influenced by those perceptions and thereby generate negative perceptions of themselves.

In other words, the value judgments individuals make about themselves are in effect partially based on the judgments others direct at them (Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998).

The social and occupational consequences of addictions also play a part in identity building by modifying and structuring the addicted individual’s self-schema. According to Markus (1977), as people accumulate personal experiences of a given type (addictive behaviors, for example), their self-schema becomes more and more resistant to inconsistent or contradictory information.

Everything an individual does in an attempt to organize or explain his or her own behavior in a given domain thus contributes to the formation of cognitive structures about the self, which Markus called self-schemata (Markus, Crane, Bernstein, & Siladi, 1982; Markus & Nurius, 1986 ; Stein, Roeser & Markus, 1998). The self-schema can thus be conceived of as a structure that enables generalizations and theorizations about the self based on the categorization of one’s own recurring behaviors and those of others. It gives each person a clearly defined idea of the type of person he or she is in a particular domain. For a given facet or aspect of life, subjects may possess a self-schema of a certain type (masculinity, academic achievement, successful career, independence).

Markus and her collaborators (1977; Markus & Smith, 1981; Markus, Smith, & Moreland, 1985) defined the essential properties and functions of a self-schema: (1) evaluate new information, (2) process information about the self (judgments and decision making) with greater ease or certainty, (3) retrieve behavioral proofs, (4) predict future behavior on the dimension in question, and (5) resist information that goes against the dominant schema.

The present study on alcoholic patients sees the self-schema of these individuals (partly) as being determined instead by psychosocial variables rooted in the stigmatization they bear. In this view, the personality traits of alcoholics are expressions of their self-schema and are determined by the social context in which they live, not just by the characteristics of the cognitive processes at play.

Because of the particular category to which alcoholic patients belong, they are subjected to stigmatizing social evaluations. Stigmatization here means ascribing negative attributes to certain persons which discredit them and give them a negative self-image. The term stigma is a very old one, formerly used to refer to a mark made on the body, generally by a hot iron, for the purposes of exposing what was “uncustomary and detestable” in the moral character of the branded person (Goffman, 1975).

Addictive behaviors are a form of social disqualification that prevents the addicted individual’s full acceptance in society. One of the consequences for the addicted is withdrawal, which necessarily leads to awareness of their socially-marked status. Such marking tends to reinforce negative self-perceptions and self-images which, in time, may lead to the emergence of a highly discredited and degraded “self”, especially if the heavy drinker recognizes the need for therapeutic treatment.

The results of this study opens some new doors for investigation by pointing out the dynamic nature of the self-schema. The self-schema can hereafter be understood as an adaptive process, not a mere cognitive structure.”

This study’s although limited in some ways – it would  be more interesting to track subjects all the way through a treatment program based on the Minnesota Model for instance – shows how being among others like oneself, also in recovery can help change how the subjects though and felt about themselves. They were no longer alone.

There was a society of people like themselves, in the “same boat” and this help change their self schema, they shared aspects of personality with others, they had found the group they belonged too. This is a good point as it points to the social isolation that addicts feel prior to coming into recovery. It also helps in terms of self worth via a newly found “secure” attachment.

It points out that recovery is often best done in the company of others like yourself. One has a societal self as well as a personal, individual self. The need to belong is huge and healthy ultimately. We are social animals.

We generally change how we think, feel about and act in life via the help of others who have made the same, essential changes to their own self schemata.

The study also mentions that the self-schema is affected by various life events (particularly ones involving self-questioning). I would add that the 12 steps changed my self schema profoundly via the self examination required.

I went from a fanciful,  distorted, negative view of self to a more realistic, accepting and empowering sense of self, a self that could others find their true selves  too.

We need the help of each other.



1. Tarquinio, C., Fischer, G. N., Gauchet, A., & Perarnaud, J. (2001). The self-schema and addictive behaviors: Studies of alcoholic patients. Swiss Journal of Psychology/Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie/Revue Suisse de Psychologie, 60(2), 73.

One Christmas I nearly relapsed!

Surviving Christmas once more – for many in recovery Christmas represents one of the hardest times of the year, it certainly always has done so for me. There is so much emotional stuff swirling around my unconscious at this time of year especially regarding my deceased parents which stirs up all sorts of negative emotions as well as grief, feelings of bereavement, anger, trauma etc. This activates my addictive illness quite a bit too. Suddenly alcohol is much more noticeable, stinking thinking increases and I have more resentments and self pity than at any other time of the year. I can find it hard going if I am perfectly honest and am often glad to see it over. I hope you survived this year too! This blog is how hidden trauma mixed with bereavement crept on me a few years ago and I came close to relapse. I came close to relapsing although I, hand on heart, never want to drink again. Even memories of drinking make my ill. Regardless I came close to relapse simply because of unresolved and distressing emotions that can prompt relapse. It explains how distress activates certain brain mechanisms which will drive one to relapse against one’s will. For me it explains, in terms of the brain, why we have no mental defence, at certain times, against the first drink!

The Alcoholics Guide to Alcoholism

One Christmas I nearly relapsed!

by alcoholicsguide

“One Christmas, I nearly relapsed. I did not wish to relapse, in fact I would rather put a gun to my head and blow my brains out! Nonetheless, I was indeed about to relapse. It seemed urgently inevitable.
The emotional distress I had suffered all over Christmas, prompted by sad unresolved feelings about my deceased parents’s had built up, aided by a few bitter arguments with my frustrated wife, into into a sheer, blind terror.
Somehow I had the sense to shakily climb the stairs to the top of the house to tell my wife that I was in trouble.My wife’s facial expression quickly flickered from hurt to heightened concern. She could tell by my quivering voice and ashen complexion that I was in trouble. I shakily walked over to sit near her. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a…

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