Dry drunk syndrome is characterized by a set of emotional impairments experienced by some people who are in recovery from alcoholism, which impedes a person’s ability to leave their addiction behind, despite being abstinent. As a result, dry drunk syndrome causes those who are suffering to remain ensnared in a day-to-day life much less fulfilling or happy than it otherwise could be.
Basically, a person who suffers from dry drunk syndrome has quit drinking alcohol but has not effectively addressed nor resolved past trauma, resentments, or hurt, and has not advanced to mental and emotional stability.
What Is a Dry Drunk?
The term “dry drunk” is believed to have originated from 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and describes someone who, their sober status notwithstanding, continues to behave as if she or he were still caught in the grip of addiction.
Who Becomes a Dry Drunk?
There are many reasons why a person in recovery would continue to encounter many of the same emotional symptoms they did when actively using. Factors that contribute to dry drunk syndrome may include the following:
The person in recovery…
…has a co-occurring mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder that has not been effectively addressed or treated.
…assumed that the mere act of engaging in sobriety would be enough to resolve most or all of their issues, and did not develop coping skills beyond their previous dysfunction solutions.
…failed to put forth enough effort into their mental and emotional well-being and has, therefore, become trapped in a less-than-optimal way of life.
…did not to take full advantage of therapy, counseling, and or external support such as family, friends, peer group meetings, etc.
…is spiritually empty. A lack of mindfulness or self-awareness has less to do with actual religion, but rather, reflects a fundamental belief that obtaining inner peace is not necessary or possible.
…are resentful about the fact that they cannot drink “normally” as others do, and consider sobriety as a sort of life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Dry Drunk Syndrome vs. Healthy Recovery
If you have wondered if you or a loved one in recovery has characteristics of a dry drunk, there is a good chance this may be true. People in recovery still have ups and downs and often must struggle against obstacles. But the place and the attitude from which they derive their worldview and how they cope with challenges is what is different between these emotionally measured people and dry drunks.
For example, dry drunks…
…exhibit bitterness and anger, and have a low stress tolerance.
…exhibit few changes in behavior and lifestyle other than abstinence, and at times continue to withdraw despite feelings of loneliness.
…are criticized by family and friends who regard the person as equally unpleasant to be around as when actively drinking.
…may believe that their lives are not much better than before they stopped drinking, and in fact, some things are regarded as worse.
…hold onto the belief that their dysfunctional coping skills somehow improved their lives.
…act as if they were forced into abstinence rather than going willingly, and continue to romanticize drinking.
…continue to ignore life’s difficulties in the same way they did when they were drinking.
…continue to engage in self-pity.
On the other hand, people who experience a healthy recovery…
…exhibit resilience, forgiveness, and have respect for oneself and others.
…exhibit healthy behaviors and lifestyle changes such as the employment of effective coping mechanisms and reengage in a positive and active social life.
…are noticeably and positively different in their mood and behavior to others close to them.
…find more enjoyment in life than when they were actively drinking, and accept that their previous means of coping was unhealthy compared to their newly-adopted skills and attitude.
…recognize that in recovery, life should not regress back to “before” addiction, and rather, be founded in a new paradigm of existence.
…may not have engaged in sobriety willingly, but at some point, readily adopted the new lifestyle and continue to do so.
…confront life’s challenges constructively, bounce back in spite of setbacks, and internalize the fact that life can be challenging with or without alcohol use.
Dry Drunk Prevention
Those in early recovery are often still at risk for falling into the aforementioned emotional and behavioral pitfalls that are indicative of dry drunk syndrome.
A person can avoid these traps by active engagement in an emotional self-recovery process and…
…becoming able to identify the signs of dry drunk syndrome vs. healthy recovery.
…be willing to revisit early recovery, identify where things went wrong, and seek solutions for them.
…be fully committed to recovery and routinely monitor progress on a long-term basis.
…recognizing that recovery is a lifelong process that requires permanent changes, a formidable will, and continuous effort.
…refusing to “romance the drink” or consider the idea that previous dysfunctional coping mechanisms can ever take the place of healthy ones.
…continuing to seek a meaningful connection between oneself and others.
…taking it seriously if, over time, life is still unsatisfying and immediately seek mental health care and emotional support from others.
Treatment for Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a chronic, devastating disease that adversely impacts the lives of those who suffer as well as everyone close to them. Harmony Treatment and Wellness offers comprehensive, evidence-based programs that include services vital to the recovery process, such as counseling, psychotherapy, group support, and more.
If you or someone you love is dependent on alcohol, please contact us as soon as possible and discover how we help people reclaim their lives, prevent relapse, and free themselves from the grips of addiction!