How to Stop Nightmares After Quitting Drugs

Last Updated: May 16th 2022

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

How to Stop Nightmares After Quitting Drugs

Addiction changes many facets of a person’s life and wellbeing. In some situations, this type of disease can impact even your ability to sleep well. Some people develop nightmare disorder, a condition in which they are not just having bad dreams at night but having difficulty sleeping over a period of time because of those dreams. It is not uncommon to struggle with nightmares after you stop using drugs. However, this is not something you have to live with, and it should be something you address with your treatment center as soon as they begin to happen.

What Is Nightmare Disorder?

Nightmare disorder is a condition in which there is a pattern of disturbed sleep. A person with this condition finds it difficult to fall asleep because they are scared to do so. Some feel uncomfortable about going to sleep. It is not just about having a bad dream here and there, but more of a pattern of dreams that make it hard for you to sleep.

In some cases, there seems to be a relationship between nightmare disorder and substance abuse. While the science is still out on what this link is or how it occurs, it is evident that some people are more likely to struggle with this condition if they have substance disorders. 

Common Drugs That Can Cause Nightmares

Some drugs and medications may put you at a higher risk for having nightmares like this, especially if you are taking these medications at a high dose, such as with addiction. Sometimes the nightmares begin after you stop using the drugs because of the dependence that forms. Some examples of these medications include:

  • Steroids, including prednisone and others
  • Antidepressants, including commonly abused drugs such as Prozac and Zoloft 
  • Alcohol, it is very common for individuals with alcohol use disorder to develop nightmare disorder when they stop using
  • Marijuana is also noted for its intense nightmares after a person stops using it
  • Cocaine, methamphetamines, and prescription medications that are stimulants

Why does it happen? Researchers are unsure what occurs that leads to the onset of intense nightmares like this. However, there is a belief that nightmares may be a form of withdrawal symptoms for some people. 

In addition to this, there may be a present co-occurring disorder that could be contributing to your nightmares. For example, some people with depression may begin struggling with nightmares after they stop using drugs or alcohol as a way to control their depression symptoms. This can lead to the onset of depressive symptoms again. For some, nightmares may be a part of that.

What Can Be Done to Help?

During a part of your drug and alcohol addiction treatment, you may work closely with people who can help you with managing all of the symptoms of addiction as well as the numerous health complications you have. That includes nightmares. It may be helpful for you to work through understanding your nightmares, especially if they relate to past trauma and pain. Sometimes working with a therapist on co-occurring disorders may be able to help.

That includes working on the underlying mental health condition and the addiction at the same time. This type of treatment, done at the same time, is critical to helping many people overcome their addiction and gain more control over their mental health needs.

One thing to remember is that ignoring your nightmares is not an option. It could lead to an inability to sleep which puts you at a higher risk for problems with your health, including risks to your cognitive function, and in some cases, can lead to irregular heart rhythms. In addition to this, you may find yourself at a higher risk of relapsing from addiction. You may also want to avoid using any type of sleeping medication as that can also put you at risk for health complications over time.

It is not possible to stay awake endlessly in the hopes of stopping your nightmares. You may also be putting yourself at risk for long-term sleep problems. Instead, tackle them straight on by working with your therapist to do so.

What Can You Do Now to Get Help?

If you are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, enter into a detox-based treatment program that can help you work through withdrawal. An individualized treatment plan is often best as it can provide care based on the symptoms you have. Reach out to our admissions team here or give us a call at (866) 971-5531.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.