True recovery involves more than mere abstinence.
Someone who has quit drinking, but has yet to embrace the characteristics associated with a wellness-focused sober lifestyle, is sometimes referred to by others in recovery as a dry drunk.
The term dry drunk is an oxymoron, meaning that a person is behaving in ways that are associated with alcohol abuse even though they are not physically ingesting any alcohol. It’s an acknowledgment of the fact that this person continues to think and act in ways that put them at a high risk of relapse.
About Dry Drunk Syndrome
Dry drunk syndrome is most common among people who have only recently stopped drinking. Typically, these individuals have been able to white knuckle their way through the initial withdrawal symptoms through sheer force of will. They believe that simply abstaining from alcohol is enough to prevent them from experiencing the negative consequences associated with addiction. What they fail to acknowledge is that their willpower will eventually fail unless they take the time to fully address their alcohol use disorder.
Often, people who exhibit traits of a dry drunk have underlying trauma and/or mental health issues that contributed to their substance abuse. They’re continuing to use destructive coping mechanisms instead of changing their behavior to reflect a healthier and more positive approach towards wellness.
Signs of Dry Drunk Syndrome
No two people are exactly alike, but the following are some signs that suggest you might be suffering from dry drunk syndrome:
- Anger or resentment directed towards the family and friends who persuaded you to quit drinking
- Frustration at missed opportunities related to alcohol abuse
- Fear that you will be unable to make a lasting change
- Jealousy of people who exhibit positivity, perseverance, and other traits associated with a lasting recovery
- Reminiscing about past substance use, instead of acknowledging the problems that alcohol has caused
- Believing that sobriety will be dull and unfulfilling
- Continued difficulty communicating with others
- Insisting on always being the center of attention or playing the victim card to gain the sympathy of others
- Refusing to accept constructive criticism or advice from others because you believe you always know what’s best
- Mood swings that shift from depression to euphoria
Finding Passion and Purpose
It may sound a bit simplistic, but one way to reduce the signs of dry drunk syndrome is to focus on what you want your sober life to be like. Tapping into your unique passions and sense of purpose will help you fully embrace recovery. Some possibilities to consider include:
- Expressing yourself creatively through music, art, or writing
- Volunteering your time or talents to give back to others
- Reconnecting with people who you lost touch with due to substance abuse
- Exploring your spirituality
- Making new friends who share your love for fitness or spending time in nature
- Going back to school to train for a new career
- Opening your own business
It can take some time to figure out what you personally value, so be patient with yourself. Thinking about your childhood dreams may be a good place to begin. Looking at common traits of people you admire can also offer some insight, as can simply trying a wide range of activities to see what sparks your interest.
Expanding Your Sober Support System
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is often said to have originated the term dry drunk, so it makes sense to turn to this 12-Step group for support when you are struggling to fully embrace a sober lifestyle. If you are worried that you may be showing signs of becoming a dry drunk, consider attending additional meetings each week and spending some extra time reviewing the group’s literature. If you currently have a sponsor, reaching out to this person for added support is also recommended.
If AA isn’t resonating with you on a personal level or you feel as though you need a supplemental form of support, an alternative peer support group such as SMART Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, or LifeRing Secular Recovery might be beneficial. These groups welcome both former and current AA members, as long as they are continuing to work towards sobriety.
How St. Joseph Institute for Addiction Can Help
Experiencing dry drunk syndrome is not uncommon, nor does it mean that a true recovery isn’t possible. It’s simply an indication that addiction support is necessary to guide an individual through the recovery process.
Completing residential treatment helps you work on developing the foundation for sobriety, but it’s normal to require outpatient counseling and other forms of relapse prevention once you graduate from a residential program. At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we provide all of our clients with access to a full range of aftercare services, including ongoing counseling, alumni gatherings, online support, and retreat programs. No matter what challenges you are facing, we’re here to help every step of the way.