A study on dream smoking

Photo by Flickr user lightbrigade. Click for sourceIf you’ve given up smoking for good, where else can you have a secret cigarette except in your dreams? A 1991 study looked at how often recently ex-smokers dreamed of smoking, and found that even after a year of abstinence the dream world was often a common refuge for an imaginary nicotine hit.

Dream of absent-minded transgression: an empirical study of a cognitive withdrawal symptom.

J Abnorm Psychol. 1991 Nov;100(4):487-91.

Hajek P, Belcher M.

Among 293 smokers abstinent for between 1 and 4 weeks, 33% reported having at least 1 dream about smoking. In most dreams, subjects caught themselves smoking and felt strong negative emotions, such as panic and guilt. Dreams about smoking were the result of tobacco withdrawal, as 97% of subjects did not have them while smoking, and their occurrence was significantly related to the duration of abstinence. They were rated as more vivid than the usual dreams and were as common as most major tobacco withdrawal symptoms. In subjects abstinent for 1 year, 63% recalled having dreams about smoking. They had on average 5 of them, and about a quarter occurred after the 6th month of abstinence. Having dreams about smoking was prospectively positively related to maintenance of abstinence. An explanation of this finding based on the association of smoking in dreams with aversive emotions is offered.

It’s an interesting finding in light of Freud’s theory that dreams are a form of wish-fulfilment. Importantly though, he suggested that psychological conflicts would be hidden from the conscious mind and would therefore appear in a symbolic form during dreaming.

The fact that ex-smokers seem to light up so blatantly in dreams suggests that this isn’t the case.

Link to PubMed entry for study.

16 Comments

  1. Posted February 23, 2010 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    I quit in 1985, so I assume that
    withdrawal is over, but I still
    occasionally dream that I’ve been
    smoking. I wake up so relieved that it
    was just a dream. I still remember how
    hard quitting was!

  2. GeraldD
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    “The fact that ex-smokers seem to light up so blatantly in dreams suggests that this isn’t the case.”
    It could just as well mean that the smoking is symbolic of a completely different psychological conflict in the dreamer and that ex-smokers are just more likely to use smoking as a symbol.

  3. Posted February 23, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I had a handful of dreams about smoking in the first 6 months after I quit. I remember feeling relieved in the dream that I had given in and started smoking again so that I was free to keep smoking. When I woke up I was actually disappointed that it was just a dream!

  4. sarahB
    Posted September 13, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Woke up from a smoking dream. I didn’t just smoke one in my dream- I went on a smoking frenzy. I remember being conflicted in my dream about where I would go from there.

    I haven’t smoked in 8 months and when I woke up enough to know that it was a dream, I was so relieved. I don’t want to smoke ever again.

  5. meg
    Posted April 7, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I’ve been quit 3 days now and each night I’ve dreamed constantly of smoking a cigarette and then realizing I’m supposed to be quitting and freaking out and throwing the cigarette or stomping it out, like I forgot I don’t smoke anymore. It’s almost like nightmares, I think I’m subconciously horrified I’ll relapse. But I’ve quit for extended periods like 4 times in 8 years of smoking and never had dreams like this until this time. Strange.

  6. osofine
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    @Meg, I think you are *consciously* horrified that you will relapse.

    I’m curious whether they took into account whether subjects were using nicotine replacements, specifically in patch form. I had several experiences trying to quit using the patch and had unbelievably intense dreams. They were so intense that upon waking in the morning I felt as though I’d been working so hard all night that I needed a nap! I wanted to be able to wear the patch all night because I was worried that I would not be able to fall asleep, or would wake up in the middle of the night and would want to smoke. I also wanted to wake up in the morning without feeling like having a cigarette. (I don’t recall whether the instructions that came with the patch recommended wearing it 24 hours.)

    Quitting is horrible. I hope you get through the first week, Meg, without too much trouble. You will feel so much better after the initial withdrawal ends. One of the craziest things about smoking is that it tricks you into thinking that stress is alleviated by having a cigarette when in fact smoking itself causes far more actual, physical stress on the body than most situational anxiety. After about a week it is still difficult psychologically, but your body starts to feel much better. Focus on that.

  7. Sharon
    Posted June 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I quit smoking almost 4 years ago. I regularly enjoy cigarettes in my dreams. It seems to happen when the few people I know that still smoke are in the dream, and I bum a cigarette. Occasionally, I bum a cigarette from a stranger in a dream. It used to come with feelings of guilt, and then relief when I awoke. It’s been happening for so long, and so often, that I have come to really enjoy it in the dreams. It’s like I know I can have one and not worry about a relapse. The interesting thing is that I quit once before for 5 years, and as soon as I bummed a cigarette, I was hooked again. It took 6 years for me to quit again, and I tried and tried. I know that I can never REALLY smoke another cigarette. If I smoke just one, I will be hooked again. Strangely, I never smoked in my dreams the first time I quit, just this time. Now, I smoke in my dreams very often. I always found it so strange that I am a dream smoker.

  8. John
    Posted July 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m at 2 weeks right now and I’ve had two dreams of smoking already. All I remember is I was smoking a cigarette like I some how forgot I was quitting then suddenly realized mid drag. I felt really guilty about smoking then woke up and realized it was a dream.

  9. Pia Marjukka Laasonen
    Posted July 6, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Dear Researcher,you may eat meat,chicken,fish alive animals.I smoke but 25 years I have been veganist.brains work in dreaming process,it is same to humans what we dream.

  10. Chrystal
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    I smoke all the time in my dreams yet I have never been a smoker in reality. Strange.

  11. Suz
    Posted August 28, 2012 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    So weird! My dream was so similar. It was so vivid. I realized that I was not supposed to be smoking anymore mid-cig. I looked down and freaked. I couldn’t decide whether to give in and smoke the rest or just drop it and run away. I quit on april 12 after smoking for 14 years.

  12. AV
    Posted April 22, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Cool – I can now smoke in dreams than real.
    I gave up 6 weeks ago and never had a dream about smoking for 30yrs – now 2 in 6 weeks !!!

  13. Christine
    Posted August 28, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    I quit 7 years ago, and every once in awhile I’ll have a dream where I started smoking again. Each time in my dream I’m always thinking to myself why did I start this again? Then when I awake I feel beyond relieved that it was only a dream!

  14. John
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    I quit 10 month ago and had a dream last night that i had 10 of my favourite brand cigs in my pocket. I went to smoke one but as it got to my lips it was wet and covered in sand. The rest of the packet was damaged inside.

    So 10 month in and im still not had a cig in the real world or the land of nod.
    :-)

  15. Nis
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I quick on 2-16-14 and i have those dreams where I am smoking. it’s weird because in my dream i have to bum cigs (in real life i always had my own) then when im smoking it i realize and i feel guilty. sometimes when i wake up i still feel guilty, like today. i felt guilty because these dreams feel so real! i dreamed that i got a cig from my landlord and i ran into my room opened my window, realized i broke the cig in a hurry to get the window opened. i ripped the broken part off and smoked the rest…i could taste that it’s menthol (maybe because my landlord really does smoke menthol so i remembered.) and i remembered HEARING me THINK to myself “your gonna keep this between yourself” lol its was crazy so when i woke up i was thinking the same thing. until i realized it was a dream. weird!

  16. Nis
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    i meant i QUIT on 2-16-14 also i forgot to mention i was smoking CHAIN smoking since i was 18..so for three almost four years i was smoking constantly…all started because i was 18 and i could buy them……can i go back to my 17 year old self and tell me not to buy cigs when i turn 18 lol


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