What is Dry Drunk Syndrome?
Dry drunk syndrome describes a person in recovery from alcoholism who is still trapped in a life that is not as happy and fulfilling as it should be.
Essentially, the person has quit drinking but has not resolved past trauma, resentments, or progressed into mental and emotional stability.
The term “dry drunk” is thought to have originated from 12-step programs, and describes someone who despite their sober status, continues to behave as if she or he were still in the throes of addiction.
Who Becomes a Dry Drunk?
There are several reasons why someone in recovery would continue to suffer from many of the same effects they once did when actively using. Factors that contribute to dry drunk syndrome include, but are not limited to the following:
The person in recovery…
…has an underlying mental health condition such as generalized depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder that has not been effectively addressed or treated.
…assumed that the simple act of engaging in sobriety would be enough to solve most or all of their problems, and has not developed coping skills beyond their former, dysfunction solutions.
…failed to put forth enough effort into their mental and emotional welfare and has, therefore, become stuck in their way of life.
…failed to take advantage of therapy, counseling, and or external support such as family, friends, 12-step meetings, etc.
…is spiritually void. This lack of mindfulness and self-awareness has less to do with actual religion, but rather, reflects a belief that finding inner peace is not possible.
…are bitter about the fact that they cannot drink like others do, and think of sobriety as more or less a life sentence without a chance of parole.
Signs of Dry Drunk Syndrome Vs. Healthy Recovery
If you have ever wondered whether you or a loved one in recovery has characteristics of a dry drunk, there is a good chance that you (or they) do.
People in recovery still have ups and downs and need to struggle against obstacles, but the place and the attitude from which they derive their worldview and how they cope with events is what determines the difference between those enjoying a successful recovery and dry drunks.
For example, dry drunks…
…exhibit resentment and anger, and have a low tolerance for stress.
…exhibit few changes in their behavior or lifestyle other than drinking, and continue at times to isolate despite the presence of loneliness.
…are criticized by loved ones who perceive the person to be as unpleasant to be around as they were when actively drinking.
…appear to believe that their lives are not much better than before they quit drinking, and in fact, some things are perceived as worse.
…appear to hold onto the belief that their flawed coping skills somehow made life better.
…act as if they were forced into sobriety rather than going willingly and continue to “romance the drink.”
…outwardly continue to ignore life’s challenges in the same way they did when they were drinking.
…continue to exhibit self-pity.
Conversely, people who are enjoying a healthy recovery…
…exhibit resilience, forgiveness, and show respect for oneself and others.
…exhibit positive behavioral and lifestyle changes such as implementing healthy coping mechanisms and re-engaging in a positive and active social life.
…appear noticeably and positively different in their behavior and mood to others close to them.
…appear to find more enjoyment in life than when they were when actively drinking and accept that their former means of coping was unhealthy compared to their newfound skills and attitude.
…appear to acknowledge that in recovery, life should not go back to “before” but rather be based on a new paradigm of existence.
…may not have entered sobriety willingly, at some point, clearly embraced the new lifestyle and continue to do so.
…appear to face life’s challenges constructively, bounce back despite setbacks, and internalize the fact that life can be difficult with or without alcohol use.
…begin to exhibit and cultivate self-assurance.
Dry Drunk Prevention
Those in early recovery may be still at risk for falling into the above emotional and behavioral traps that are characteristic of dry drunk syndrome.
You can avoid these pitfalls by actively engaging in a mental and emotional self-recovery process and…
…review and be able to recognize the signs of dry drunk syndrome vs. a healthy recovery.
..be willing to re-visit early recovery, find out where things went wrong, and seek/devise solutions for them.
…be fully committed to recovery and regularly monitor your progress on a long-term basis.
…acknowledge that recovery is a lifelong process that requires permanent changes and effort.
…never “romance the drink” or entertain the idea that your former dysfunctional coping mechanism can ever take the place of a healthy one.
…always seek a spiritual and meaningful connection with yourself and others.
…take it seriously if, over time, life is still unhappy and unsatisfying and immediately seek mental health care and emotional support from others.