What is a Dry Drunk?
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on June 23, 2020
What Does Being a Dry Drunk Mean?
The term dry drunk was created by the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1970. He defined it as, “the presence of actions and attitudes that characterized the alcoholic prior to recovery.”
In other words, it means having the same behaviors and thought patterns you had while drinking alcohol, even though you’re no longer drinking.
Dry drunk syndrome is part of the PAWS stage of recovery, or Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. This period is the time it takes for your brain to readjust to life without alcohol. This process is physical, but it is also mental, and can take weeks, months or even years.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
One of the most noticeable signs of being a dry drunk is that a person who is completely sober may start to exhibit the signs of being drunk.
Additional symptoms of dry drunk syndrome include:
- Glorifying past drinking
- Constant fear of relapse
- Jealousy of those not struggling with alcoholism
- Substituting alcoholism with other addictions or addictive behavior.
- Negative emotions surrounding recovery
Dry drunk syndrome almost exclusively takes place in a person’s mind. It is maintained that working on one’s mental health is key to overcoming dry drunk syndrome.
Does it Happen to Everyone?
No, it does not. The severity and symptoms of both withdrawal and PAWS will vary greatly depending on a person’s body and their history of alcohol abuse.
When an alcoholic gives up alcohol, they are letting go of something that provided them with comfort and relief. Without them, things are bound to get worse before they improve. How this plays out will be different for everyone. Every person who works on beating their addiction will encounter real difficulties in their transition to recovery. The vast majority of people will need to work hard to overcome their addictive behaviors.
Does Being Dry Drunk Mean I’ve Relapsed?
No it does not. It is extremely common for alcoholics to have to go through the stage of being a dry drunk on their journey to recovery.
The key is to treat the root of the cause—psychological elements— leading to dry drunk syndrome, otherwise it could turn into a relapse. The best way to do this is to commit to a program of recovery. Treatment programs can help target the psychological issues that shape the desire to drink by changing thought and behavioral patterns.
What Are the Differences Between Sobriety, Dry Drunk and Recovery?
Together, these three words could, understandably, cause some confusion.
In the community of recovery, sobriety means abstaining from alcohol or drugs.
When someone has worked to uncover the deeper causes behind their addiction and has overcome the patterns, thinking and behaviors that led to their problematic use, then they are in recovery. While those in recovery are generally sober, those who are sober are not always in recovery.
Becoming dry drunk can be thought of as the in-between. You may be a dry drunk between becoming sober and working towards recovery. It is the phase that many have to pass through after becoming sober but before entering into recovery.
Coping with Dry Drunk Syndrome
At the beginning of your journey to recovery, sobriety may have seemed like the ultimate goal. But it’s after achieving the sobriety that the essential work begins. It is critical to learn how to re-wire your brain so that you can move past being sober and into a life of recovery.
Here are some tips for coping with your dry drunk syndrome:
- Think of giving up alcohol as a grieving process. Many experience sobriety as a loss. Psychologically, it can be akin to losing a loved one. Part of the recovery process is allowing yourself to grieve your loss. Even though you’re giving up alcohol for a better life, you’re giving up something that could have been a positive to you.
- Seek out support. Support groups such as Alcohol Anonymous (AA) can be enormously helpful for navigating dry drunk syndrome and overcoming it.
- Find a positive replacement. A lot of your time and energy was devoted to drinking prior to sobriety. How will you fill the extra time on your hands? Think of something you’ve always wanted to try or wish you spent more time doing, and give it a shot.
- Concentrate on your health. Now that alcohol is out of the picture, your body is reaping the rewards. With sobriety comes a healthier body. Abstaining from alcohol will lead to losing weight, increased energy and a faster metabolism. Capitalize on this boost by embracing a healthier lifestyle.
- Socialize without alcohol. Support from friends and family is key to recovery success. Spend time with your loved ones and build your relationships.
- Reassess your life goals. Now that alcohol isn’t holding you back, take this time to pursue old passions and reach for your goals. It’s a great time to look into returning to school or applying for better jobs.
Treatment and Dry Drunk Syndrome
Recovery is the ultimate goal in addiction treatment, but it is a tough and complex journey. Exploring your thought patterns and behaviors that led you to addiction can be exhausting and difficult. But it is absolutely worth it.
If you’re suffering from dry drunk syndrome, stay active in your treatment program, and remember that it is a part of the journey to your goal: a successful recovery.
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