Dry Drunk Syndrome – Signs and Symptoms

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A “dry drunk” or “dry alcoholic” is someone who’s quit drinking but is struggling emotionally and has not fully addressed underlying factors contributing to their alcohol dependence. These issues continue to have control over their mental state even though they’ve been abstinent for some time. Dry drunks have overcome chemical dependency but have not yet developed the skills they need to fully commit to living a healthy and fulfilling life in recovery.

If you’ve been told you’ve been exhibiting dry drunk syndrome, you may have received inadequate treatment or are currently using a treatment plan that needs adjusting. Or, you may not have received behavioral therapy or professional support and quit drinking alone. In either case, you may benefit from seeking initial or further treatment to help address the emotional issues you are still experiencing, manage cravings, and prevent relapse

At Guardian Recovery, our comprehensive programs are designed to treat and support individuals in all phases of active addiction and recovery, including those exhibiting features of dry drunk syndrome.

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What Is Dry Drunk Syndrome? 

Dry drunk syndrome is a group of characteristics that describe an individual who, despite being sober, continues to conduct themselves as if abstinence is a chore and who still struggles with behavioral issues. Dry drunks often appear perpetually depressed, unfulfilled, and uncomfortable with abstinence. This is sometimes referred to as “white-knuckling” sobriety. (1) They may have gotten sober for another person or legal purposes, and they feel as if they were forced into it instead of being a willing participant.

These factors can undermine a person’s ability to overcome feelings and behaviors related to past active addiction. (2) When individuals fail to address these issues, they will ultimately remain unsatisfied with sobriety in their daily lives. 

Typically, dry drunks have not confronted their resentments, shame, guilt, or past trauma, which can significantly increase the risk of relapse in the future. They also tend to be narcissistic, inflexible in their thinking, self-righteous, overreactive, and impulsive.(3)

Who Develops Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Active alcohol and drug users didn’t come to be in their situation for no reason. Many factors underpin addiction, and knowing how to handle ongoing emotional distress is essential to maintain long-term sobriety. Dry drunks typically have this in common and share many other characteristics.

Common Traits of Dry Drunks Include:

  • Assuming that achieving sobriety would solve most problems and, as a result, not being motivated to develop the skills needed to replace their dysfunctional methods of coping.
  • Not putting enough effort or care into improving their emotional well-being and, therefore, becoming ensnared in a mediocre and often unsatisfying way of living.
  • Not taking full advantage of comprehensive treatment, individual therapy, counseling, or external support systems, such as 12-step meetings.
  • Being spiritually deficient and believing they don’t need or cannot achieve inner peace.
  • Feeling resentful of their inability to control their drinking as others do.

Warning Signs of Dry Drunk Syndrome Include: (4)

  • Exhibiting narcissism and an exaggerated sense of self-importance and grandiosity, such as attention-seeking.
  • Appearing detached, distracted, or bored.
  • Making poor decisions and displaying impulsiveness and impatience.
  • Blaming others and not accepting accountability for their own faults and actions.
  • Displaying a rigid, judgmental, “black and white” outlook.
  • Being dishonest and irresponsible.

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Dry Drunk Syndrome VS Healthy Recovery

The attitudes of dry alcoholics compared to those who’ve successfully recovered holistically are vastly different. While people enjoying recovery have cultivated a life unconducive to alcohol use, dry drunks sometimes wish they could still drink because it seems like the best way to solve many of their problems.

Behaviors & Attitudes of Dry Drunks Commonly Include:

  • Exhibiting anger and bitterness, mood swings, and low stress tolerance.
  • Neglecting behavioral and lifestyle changes other than becoming sober.
  • Having difficulty maintaining relationships and isolating from others, despite feeling lonely.
  • Believing their lives are not better (or even worse) than when they were actively drinking.
  • Ignoring criticism of loved ones who consider them to be as disagreeable and unpleasant as they were before sobriety.
  • Clinging to the false belief that their unhealthy coping mechanisms once improved their lives to some extent.
  • Engaging in self-pity and fostering feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
  • Romanticizing alcohol use and reminiscing about enjoyable times spent drinking.
  • Ignoring challenges and stress in a way similar to how they did when they were actively drinking.

Behaviors & Attitudes of People Happy & Successful in Recovery Include:

  • Understanding the importance of forgiveness, resilience, and positive self-worth.
  • Engaging in behaviors conducive to recovery and using healthier, more effective coping mechanisms to deal with stress.
  • Pursuing an active, enjoyable, social life.
  • Being perceived as markedly different in behavior and attitude to loved ones.
  • Finding more enjoyment in life than when they were active alcoholics.
  • Accepting that former coping mechanisms were unhealthy, ineffective, and dysfunctional.
  • Understanding that life in recovery will be entirely new and will not and should not go back to before alcohol misuse
  • Confronting life’s stresses and challenges constructively, displaying self-confidence, and rebounding emotionally despite obstacles.

Mental Health Conditions & Dry Drunk Syndrome

Many individuals have certain psychological conditions that can cause dry drunk syndrome, such as comorbid mental health disorders and post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Until these dual diagnoses are effectively addressed, those who experience them may find it challenging to develop the coping methods they’ll need to replace their old, dysfunctional ways of handling stress.

Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions

Co-occurring mental health conditions often go unaddressed or don’t receive sufficient attention and care. (5) It can be difficult for those accustomed to self-medicating psychological symptoms with alcohol to carry on substance-free when their mental health has not been given the consideration it deserves.

Common psychiatric conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, have been strongly linked to substance misuse and addiction. (6) So, in the absence of intervention, a person exhibiting dry drunk syndrome may be experiencing more emotional turmoil than they were while using alcohol to self-medicate.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) 

PAWS is a condition that can develop or persist long after detox and chemical withdrawal has been achieved. Symptoms associated with PAWS are no longer physical (e.g., tremors, sweating, headache, etc.) but instead are emotional and behavioral. (7) These symptoms are similar to those seen in individuals with long-standing mental illnesses and include depression, anxiety, mood swings, and reliving traumatic experiences.

Dry Drunk Syndrome Prevention

An individual’s first year of recovery appears to be the most vulnerable to dry drunk symptoms, especially the first few months. (8) A person new to recovery risks experiencing this syndrome if they continue to deal with emotional difficulties with the same disregard and dysfunctionality they did during active alcoholism. 

Dry Drunk Prevention Strategies Include:

  • Being able to recognize signs of being a dry drunk vs. enjoying a successful recovery.
  • Having the willingness to revisit the early recovery process, identify areas that need improvement, and seek solutions for these issues.
  • Being fully dedicated to long-term recovery and monitoring progress regularly.
  • Refusing to glamorize alcohol or entertain the idea that their former coping methods were somehow functional.
  • Actively seeking meaningful connections with themselves and others.

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Seeking or Renewing Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcohol addiction is a potentially life-threatening chronic disease that adversely impacts the lives of those who suffer and those close to them. Fortunately, however, alcoholism is very treatable. Using a holistic and integrated approach to addiction, Guardian Recovery offers evidence-based recovery programs, individualized treatment plans, effective therapies, and multiple levels of care and support.

If you suspect you or someone you love has dry drunk syndrome or is alcohol-dependent, we encourage you to contact us today for a free, no-obligation assessment and health benefits check. Discover more about our streamlined admission process and how we help those who need it most reclaim the healthy lives they deserve.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://www.12step.com/glossary-of-terms

(2)https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/heartache-hope/201105/is-there-dry-drunk-in-your-life

(3)https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/136345939700100202

(4)https://www.cigna.com/knowledge-center/the-dry-drunk

(5)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780444626196000331?via%3Dihub

(6)https://www.candi.nhs.uk/news/unhealthy-mix-between-alcohol-and-mental-health

(7)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1555415521005523

(8)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1555415521005523

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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