What Is Dry Drunk Syndrome? Common Recovery Hurdles

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For those who struggle with alcohol use disorder, it’s a major achievement to stop drinking. However, that’s not the only step on the road to overcoming addiction. Stopping substance abuse is only the first step. But to truly recover from addiction and avoid relapse, you also have to understand the pattern of behavior behind addiction. Those who have stopped drinking, but are still dealing with the underlying causes of addiction, are known as dry drunks.

What Is a Dry Drunk?

What Is Dry Drunk Syndrome


Simply put, a dry drunk, or dry alcoholic, is somebody who no longer engages in alcohol abuse, but still experiences the symptoms of addiction. Someone who is a dry drunk may still exhibit the physical symptoms of alcohol intoxication, such as slurring their speech or having trouble with balance, even if they’ve been sober for weeks. They may also keep engaging in the same impulsive, self-damaging behavior they did while using alcohol. They may even resort to engaging in other addictive behaviors to satisfy their cravings.

The term dry drunk syndrome was originally coined by the creators of Alcoholic Anonymous to describe somebody who has stopped drinking alcohol, but who still engages in “the actions and attitudes that characterized the alcoholic prior to recovery.” Simply put, a dry drunk, or dry alcoholic, is somebody who is sober, but still behaves like an addict.

What Does It Mean to Be a Dry Drunk?

For somebody who is already coping with depression or other mental health concerns, the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome might further complicate the road to recovery. People with dry drunk syndrome can often start to feel frustrated with the perceived slow pace of their treatment, or begin to feel like they’re regressing.

This can lead to periods of relapse and strain their relationships and interactions with others. This is especially true if substance abuse has already had a negative impact on your relationships. Dry drunk syndrome is most common among people who quit alcohol without the support of addiction professionals. However, anyone can become a dry drunk, most often during the emotionally charged first year of sobriety.

According to studies, an estimated 75% of people who stop using alcohol will experience dry drunk syndrome to some degree. It’s not always easy to open up about substance abuse and recovery, especially to people who don’t have any experience with it. And the difficulty of dealing with this emotionally trying process can cause a great deal of stress.

Those close to people who are experiencing dry drunk syndrome might notice that they’ve become more irritable, distant, lethargic or impulsive after they quit using alcohol. Sometimes, this is even to the point of being worse to be around than when they were still using. Oftentimes, dry drunks will regress to the kinds of behaviors that drove them to seek help for their addiction issues in the first place.

What Are the Signs of Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Learning to understand the signs of dry drunk syndrome is an important step in taking control of substance abuse issues and confronting the core problems that cause addiction. Living like this causes pain for not only the individual, but also for those who care about them.

It can sometimes feel like the road to mental health recovery is impossibly hard. But being able to recognize these behaviors and thought processes in yourself or in your loved ones can help you develop coping mechanisms and strategies to prevent relapse.

  • Changes in mood: People with dry drunk syndrome often become unusually irritable, anxious, or frustrated, sometimes with no apparent reason. They may show jealousy of friends who still drink, romanticize drinking, or lash out at others around them over small things. Seemingly baseless anger, restlessness, and anxiety is often an externalization of the dry drunk’s internal struggles with craving alcohol or feelings of inferiority and hopelessness.
  • Changes in behavior: Unusual depression, listlessness, or fatigue is a common effect of dry drunk syndrome. After stopping drinking, the person may feel they have little or no motivation to do their normal daily tasks while sober. They may also begin to pick fights with others, make decisions that put their personal and professional relationships in jeopardy, or engage in other forms of self-damaging behavior to “make up” for what they feel is missing from their lives without alcohol abuse.
  • Physical symptoms: Long periods of sustained substance alcohol or drug abuse create chemical imbalances in the brain. Even when someone wants to recover, these require time and patience to correct. After stopping alcohol usage, dry drunks often have trouble sleeping and may exhibit the symptoms of alcohol intoxication even when sober, such as poor balance and slurred speech.

How Can Alcoholics in Recovery Heal?

How Can Alcoholics in Recovery Heal?

Many with addiction issues first turn to using alcohol or drugs to help them to cope with past trauma, mental health issues such as anxiety, or other stressors. Although they may stop abusing substances, these underlying issues often continue to make them engage in self-damaging behaviors. The cause behind dry drunk syndrome is the disparity between mental health and addictions. Just because somebody stops using alcohol doesn’t mean that they’ll begin to immediately make healthy decisions.

Treatment of both addiction and underlying mental issues is called dual diagnosis treatment. Dual diagnosis programs combine mental health therapy with a substance abuse treatment to ensure that doctors are addressing both mental health and addiction issues at the same time.

Getting Help for Addiction and Mental Health

By treating both mental health and addiction issues simultaneously with dual diagnosis treatment, comprehensive healing and full recovery become possible, which can help individuals break the cycle of poor mental health and substance abuse. If you or somebody in your life seems to be a dry drunk, professional help to address both their addiction and the mental health condition underlying it may be the best option to help them continue on their road to recovery.

At Port St. Lucie Hospital, we offer personalized treatment plans with evidence-based treatment options that address every facet of your unique mental health and addiction issues.

The road to recovery isn’t always easy—it’s an ongoing journey of self-discovery, growth, and change. Confronting all of the aspects of addiction at once will help to secure a successful recovery and freedom from the struggle with substance abuse.

To get started on the road to recovery, or if you just have any questions about helping yourself or a loved one, contact our admissions specialists at 772-408-5871 or fill out our confidential contact form.

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