The dry drunk myth may sound like a legendary label conjured up to benefit alcohol treatment facilities and 12 Step support groups, but we can assure you that it does exist.
Suffering from dry drunk syndrome is harmful in many ways, not only to the individual recovering from alcoholism but also to their loved ones and generally, even anyone who comes into frequent contact with them.
Dry drunk syndrome, also known as untreated alcoholism at its worst, can be very serious; it can lead an individual to want to take their own life.
So what is dry drunk syndrome behaviour? How can dry drunk syndrome be avoided? And, if you have dry drunk syndrome, what can you do to get better?
The term “dry drunk” is used to describe an individual who suffers from alcoholism, has managed to stop drinking but has done little or nothing to change their thinking or behaviours.
Alcoholism or alcohol addiction, now referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a recognised medical illness that manifests in many ways, one being excessive alcohol consumption despite negative consequences Other symptoms of alcoholism are behaviour related, they ultimately support the addiction and if left untreated in a recovering alcoholic will usually lead to relapse, or at the very least a very miserable existence.
Recovering from alcohol addiction is far more complex than just stopping drinking. While it is essential to remain abstinent from alcohol, to sustain this, the alcoholic must undergo a profound change in thinking and behaviours. This is not usually something that happens automatically. No one becomes alcoholic overnight, and it is an illness that develops and then progresses; the same applies to recovery.
What is a dry drunk personality? What is considered a dry drunk? Being a dry drunk is associated with abstaining from alcohol but retaining certain behaviours that are related to the days of active alcohol abuse.
Addiction is both a physical and a mental health disorder. Once the physical aspect of alcohol addiction has been treated (i.e. through an alcohol detox), the mental element then requires intensive person-centred treatment.
A dry drunk definition can include:
An individual who has not learned that impulsive behaviour often carries negative consequences will still choose instant gratification over long term gain. In their drinking days, this will have served to support their addiction and consequences can be ignored with more drinking. In sobriety, the individual will have to face their consequences, and this can cause stress, embarrassment and shame to build up.
Stress can play a significant factor in alcoholic relapse. In active alcoholism, the answer would have been to drink more alcohol. In sobriety, the individual must learn healthier ways of coping with stress to preserve their mental health and wellbeing.
Alcohol use disorder is fuelled by resentment and living in the past. By consuming alcohol to deal with unpleasant feelings, the individual is not processing anything. In sobriety without alcohol as an anaesthetic, these resentments can become intolerable to bear. The sufferer is likely to feel very angry, preoccupied and depressed as a result.
Successful alcohol recovery means processing the past safely and acceptably. Often this requires some form of alcohol counselling as alcoholics often experience trauma.
Active alcoholism is driven by fear, fear of being found out, fear of repercussions, fear of people, fear of failure, fear of not being able to drink…the list goes on. To a certain extent, alcohol will have helped to both alleviate fears and manifest fears.
An alcoholic will always remember what alcohol did for them and to them. Ask any recovering alcoholic, and they will tell you that alcohol initially gave them confidence, made them feel invincible and enabled them to be part of society.
Without alcohol, a recovering alcoholic will very likely feel fear on a daily basis as they live in the past and project into the future. It is essential that an individual in recovery learns to tell the difference between a real fear (immediate threat) and a projected fear (imagined threat). Equally as important is how they deal with those fears without putting their recovery at risk.
Uncontrolled irrational fears can lead an alcoholic to remember what alcohol did for them more than what it did to them.
Suffering from addiction leads to negative thinking patterns. Living as an active alcoholic or as a drug addict would make a pessimist out of anyone. The negative thinking has to change once the alcohol has been put down. If it doesn’t, it can become repetitive and all-consuming and lead to an individual to become very depressed and anxious.
A dry drunk will still crave and hanker after alcohol. They will often reminisce about the good days of their drinking and gloss over the bad days. This can lead them to talk about alcohol and thinking about alcohol a lot!
Not drinking alcohol when there is still a desire to drink is often referred to as “white-knuckling” as the individual clings on to sobriety for dear life.
Every day becomes a struggle as they battle with constant thoughts of drinking. Needless to say, this often leads to relapse if left unaddressed.
A dry drunk will appear to their family and friends to be still very self-absorbed. Active alcoholism makes an individual think about their own needs constantly and how they can meet them, often to the detriment of others.
Being an alcoholic requires a certain amount of deceit, manipulation, secrecy and selfishness. For some, this exists to a great extent. Alcohol is entirely placed merely above everything else.
Take away the alcohol and this trait of selfishness can still remain. The individual may still only think of themselves and what they need to feel better and more comfortable within themselves.
Alcohol gives alcoholics a buzz, like a magic elixir it lights up the brain’s reward system like a pinball machine, releasing feel-good chemicals and providing a temporary high.
Sober, a dry drunk may well miss the buzz and seek it through other alternative means which may or may not be healthy. They can even cross addict to another substance or behaviour, but as long as they are not drinking maintain that they are alright.
Dopamine, the brains naturally occurring feel-good chemical, plays a huge role in addiction of any kind. The substance the brain is addicted to will induce excessive amounts of dopamine to be produced – to the point that the brain actually rewires itself to seek out the stimulus actively. This is regardless of the consequences to personal health and wellbeing.
With the alcohol gone, a recovering alcoholic may well feel depressed with low levels of motivation. They may choose unhealthy ways of making themselves feel good again. They may indulge in risky sexual behaviour, drive in a fast, erratic and dangerous manner, or go looking for volatile and violent situations.
A dry drunk’s behaviour can still put their own life and the lives of others at risk. This has to change! Healthier means of feeling good and releasing dopamine which is essential to our wellbeing need to be learned and practised frequently.
If you suffer from alcoholism and have managed to stop drinking, whether it be through alcohol detox, reduction regime or another method, speak to those closest to you to ask how they feel about the way you conduct yourself.
Often those who are closest to an alcoholic will be too afraid to challenge dysfunctional behaviours in case it tips the individual back into active alcoholism. However, family, friends and loved ones will often see the signs of relapse way before it happens.
If you are worried, you may be suffering from dry drunk syndrome, allow your loved ones to feedback to you any concerns that they may have. Listening to them with an open mind may save you from an alcoholic relapse.
You may also want to measure yourself against the signs and symptoms of dry drunk syndrome. Are you really enjoying sobriety or just trying to not drink? Have you undergone any therapy to help you to process the past? Do you more often than not, feel negative thoughts and emotions? Do you feel lost, like you have no purpose and ask yourself what the point is? Do you often fantasise about drinking and think that perhaps one day you will be able to drink normally? These are all poignant questions designed to help you identify if you need treatment.
If you have never received any help or support for your alcoholism and are trying to stay sober on your own, there is a good chance that you suffer from dry drunk syndrome and will be more vulnerable to relapse, depression, anger, anxiety and even suicidal ideation.
Stopping drinking is very rarely enough; the same thoughts and behaviours will remain unless help is accessed to help you change.
Preceding a relapse into alcohol, an alcoholic is likely to revert to their old ways of thinking and acting. In other words, they display some, if not all the symptoms of a dry drunk. They begin to withdraw from recovery and lose focus of what is really important – their sobriety. This can happen slowly over a period of time or for some, and it can happen quickly. Any dysfunctional or harmful behaviour needs to be challenged promptly.
An alcoholic who is heading for relapse and suffering from dry drunk syndrome is likely to be bitter, angry, anxious, self-pitying and behave out of character. They may well feel like the whole world is against them and that nothing ever goes their way. They are likely to lose interest in things that they used to enjoy and gradually withdraw from life; mostly, they display all the traits of their active addiction days but without the alcohol.
Addicts use their substance of choice to decrease emotional and physical suffering. If they stop drinking but fail to enter into and remain in the process of recovery, they try to deal with their pain in nonfunctional ways.
Some commonplace symptoms of a dry drunk are bitterness, annoyance and anger, a limited ability to cope with stress; poor relationship skills/emotional abuse; denial of responsibility for problems; blaming others for problems; and distorted thinking.
Fortunately, there is hope if they take action.
We must recognise they are still in emotional trouble and desperately need recovery. They must be committed to a recovery process that includes emotional growth.
There are some additional steps they can take to achieve emotional sobriety in their lives:
They must establish a process of recovery. As with any helpful routine, which might include an exercise regimen, healthy eating, recovery is something that needs to be developed as a normal part of life. Since your husband or wife has had an addiction, going to 12 Step meetings or some other recovery process is critical. Once attendance is established, they will begin to replace negative thinking patterns with healthy ones.
Maintain the recovery process. Once they have established a recovery process, encourage them to maintain it. Recovery needs to be part of their daily and weekly practice. Help your spouse weave it into their life and ensure it’s not crowded out by other important aspects of living.
Be alert for lapses in progress. Slips can and will happen. Be alert for them. Know what dry drunk behaviour looks like in your spouse. This can be achieved by knowing what dangerous thinking is and what it looks like. Diversely, be fully apprised of what healthy, emotional sobriety looks like and how it should be practised.
Establish support and accountability. Your spouse needs others in their life who will ensure they are practising emotional sobriety. They will need others to make sure they are managing difficult situations effectually. They need to relate to others — including you — in healthy ways and enjoy emotional balance. Help them build those people into their life.
Help them practice emotional sobriety in small and large ways. Emotional sobriety is not merely the absence of emotional outbursts, irrational moods, or mood swings. It is practising “sober thinking” each day. Encouraging hope and healthy relationships are achieved by daily practice.
Stopping an addiction is a challenge; however, living a sober life is even more challenging. Encourage your spouse to be frank with you about whether they are really living a sober life filled with life-giving practices.
When trying to help a dry drunk, do not be afraid of hurting their feelings or that you will tip them over the edge. Their recovery is their responsibility, and you can only offer support.
If they have been under a lot of stress recently and stopped healthily dealing with things, a frank discussion may be enough to make them stop and evaluate the situation. Because of the nature of alcoholism, many that are heading towards a relapse either won’t see the signs themselves or feel too ashamed to ask for help.
By approaching the subject of behaviour with an alcoholic in recovery, you can help them to access the professional help that they need. You can also encourage them to engage, or re-engage with a recovery programme such as Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps. You may be surprised, and they may have been suffering and afraid of worrying you and so will welcome your offer of support.
Treatment for dry drunk syndrome is the same as it is for alcoholism but without the alcohol detox. The individual has already dealt with the physical aspect of their addiction, and they will now need to address the psychological.
The psychological component of alcoholism is the hardest part to treat. However, as the main driving force behind alcoholic drinking, it must be managed correctly.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are characterised by unhealthy coping mechanisms and are classed not only as psychiatric disorders but also behavioural disorders. An alcoholic cannot be expected to know how to behave after years of drinking and maladaptive behaviours, and this is something that they need to learn.
Evidence-based treatments that are proven to help enable recovery from alcohol addiction are all aimed at healing the mindset and the spirit of the individual. They help to identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviours and encourage change. These treatments can only really be beneficial once the alcoholic is no longer chemically dependent on alcohol, and their brain has had a chance to be cleared of alcohol’s toxins. This is why an alcohol treatment programme is always recommended to follow on immediately from alcohol detox.
If you want help to stop drinking, please consider the bigger picture. You will need to learn how to live life on life’s terms as a sober person.
Treatments that are proven to help treat the psychological component of alcoholism include:
Some of these therapies can be accessed through the NHS or through local alcohol support groups.
For a more specialist and intensive alcohol treatment programme which includes a vast selection of evidence-based treatments, you may want to consider private alcohol rehab. You will also benefit from a medical alcohol detox if you need help to stop the alcohol and are alcohol dependent.
It is crucial to be able to gain a correct diagnosis, while both dry drunk syndrome and depression respond well to therapy and support, depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain which may require medical help also.
Depression and alcoholism often go hand in hand, and it can be hard to tell what is untreated alcoholism and what is genuine depression. A rehab doctor specialising in dual diagnosis or a qualified addiction counsellor will be able to ensure you are diagnosed and treated correctly.
For someone to want to stay in recovery, recovery needs to be appealing and enjoyable. Negative thinking and unhealthy behaviours can make an alcohol addicts old way of life seem more attractive and easier.
Changing negative thinking and behaviour isn’t easy and takes time and continual practice; although it’s certainly a lot easier than living life as a dry drunk.
We come across alcoholics who get sober and think they have solved the drink problem. The reality is they have only addressed the chemical dependency temporarily. Without behavioural therapy and treatment, an alcoholic is highly likely to relapse or may even take their own life sober. This can be avoided by asking for help and accessing alcohol treatment.
If you or a loved one need help for alcoholism or dry drunk syndrome, contact us or call Rehab Guide today on 02072052845.
Sources and references:
Learn More About Alcohol Addiction
Effects of Alcohol Abuse