If 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.