Dry Drunk: Understanding the Syndrome and Symptoms

Recovering from alcohol addiction is not an easy feat, and just like breaking away from any form of substance abuse, staying on the path to sobriety often involves a lifelong commitment. There is no shortage of addiction treatment plans and programs available for helping addicts quit their bad habits, but there are hidden complications that can make the journey ahead bumpier for people in recovery. 

Overcoming withdrawal symptoms is one thing, but despite helping the body flush out its alcohol dependence, there is one condition that can afflict the mind for those who don’t learn how to address the issues that became the catalyst for their addiction in the first place. One such malady is known as the “dry drunk syndrome,” a condition that manifests when the person in recovery doesn’t acknowledge the destructive behavioral patterns that led to their alcohol abuse. 

What is Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) coined the term “dry drunk” to describe people who took the first steps to lead a life of sobriety—which involves quitting alcohol altogether, but symptoms of alcoholism persist long after quitting their unhealthy relationship with substances. This condition is also known as “white-knuckling,” wherein the person maintains sobriety and resists temptations, but the craving for alcoholic drinks never fades as time passes. 

What Causes Dry Drunk Syndrome? 

Dry drunk syndrome happens when the person quitting doesn’t understand that recovering isn’t just about stopping their alcohol abuse. On the contrary, achieving long-lasting recovery is a spiritual, mental, and emotional effort, too, all of which play a part in helping you become accountable for your actions and influence your decisions throughout the process. 

After all, quitting drinking is only the first step. The next involves looking deep into your psyche and analyzing the factors that led to your poor decisions so that in the future, you can rebuild your confidence in yourself. It involves a certain level of emotional and psychological maturity, both of which matters in leading a sober lifestyle since many addictions spiral out of control due to mental struggles. 

What are the Tell-Tale Signs and Symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Detecting whether your loved one is struggling with the dry drunk syndrome can be tricky, especially since many people believe that sobriety means the ability to resist falling back into one’s unhealthy drinking habits. 

Not to mention, the dry drunk syndrome often takes root in the mind, making it a hidden problem that may rear its ugly head out in the future to compromise the person in recovery’s shaky hold in their sobriety. The dry drunk syndrome can be dangerous in its own way, too, since it brings the person in question closer to suffering a relapse.

Before celebrating your loved one’s success in letting go of their alcohol addiction, it’s best to watch out for signs of internal struggles and view it as the first cusps of the dry drunk syndrome: 

Mood Symptoms of Dry Drunk

  • A growing resentment towards family, friends, and other relationships;
  • A need to become the center of attention in some way or another;
  • Embracing the role of the victim and failing to accept the consequences of their actions; 
  • Having trouble expressing feelings and communicating with others; 
  • Severe mood swings ranging from depression, hyperactivity, and more;
  • A deep fear of one’s inability to change; 
  • Extreme irritation directed at anyone who was involved in their intervention; 
  • Failure to acknowledge the problems and strained relationships the alcohol addiction caused;
  • Feelings of disbelief, bitterness, and jealousy when seeing other people recover from their substance abuse in healthy ways; 
  • Sticking to one’s beliefs and closing the mind off from other people’s opinions; 

Behavioral Symptoms of Dry Drunk

  • Refusing to listen, accept, and apply constructive criticism; 
  • Becoming self-obsessed; 
  • Having an addictive personality, which only replaces your addiction with a new vice—be it food, sex, drugs, internet use, or even hobbies;
  • Impulsive behavior—be it in shopping, decision-making, and more; 
  • Being one’s harshest critic; 
  • Frequent daydreaming involving alcohol use;
  • Dishonesty;

It’s natural to struggle with the shame of alcohol addiction since not only does substance abuse damage the body in more ways than one, but it also destroys plenty of relationships along the way. That’s why recovering also includes patching things up with loved ones, easing the strain on your relationships, and hopefully rebuilding trust with the people in your life. 

It’s normal for people in recovery to slip up somewhere along the way, but if you notice the negative signs above persist, then it means they’re likely suffering from the dry drunk syndrome. 

dry drunk syndrome
what is dry drunk

How to Prevent or Overcome Dry Drunk Syndrome? 

The first step to overcoming dry drunk syndrome is to assess the stressors and triggers that led to your undoing, so this might mean looking back at your past and unearthing unspoken traumas.

But whatever the reason behind your emotional turmoils, properly communicating your feelings helps you process your addictive tendencies and make sense of your renewed vigor to lead a healthier life moving forward. 

Some programs that can help you achieve emotional and psychological acceptance in your recovery include the following treatment options:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy, which helps process your thoughts so you can reach realistic solutions to changing your behavior;
  • Dialectical behavior therapy, which focuses on redirecting your negative behavior and helping you find healthier outlets to cope with overwhelming feelings;
  • Motivational enhancement, which helps keep you motivated and discovers ways to stay positive in your efforts so you can continue to make healthier choices in the future; 
  • Mutual support groups, which brings you closer to communities who understand your struggles; 
  • Contingency management, which helps set incentives to encourage positive behavioral changes. 

The Bottom Line: Overcoming Dry Drunk Syndrome and Achieving Real Sobriety 

Recovering from alcohol addiction is never a straight path, so successfully quitting drinking doesn’t immediately count as a win. Remember that achieving long-lasting sobriety is a life-long process, one that involves looking into your internal struggles, understanding one’s triggers, and opening oneself up to the right support system to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol. 

There’s a reason sobriety requires a person’s undivided commitment, and that’s because it involves fully accepting and acknowledging all the struggles that contributed to one’s substance abuse or addictive behavior. 

With that in mind, it’s important to have the proper treatment programs that can help deal with all the layers and co-occurring disorders that can manifest throughout one’s recovery journey.