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Dry Drunk Syndrome – Signs, Symptoms And Prevention

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

June 13, 2019

People that do not receive treatment for the emotional and psychological aspects of their addiction in sobriety can often struggle with what’s known as dry drunk syndrome. The most effective way to overcome this is to seek professional treatment.

Entering sobriety after a short or long-term struggle with alcohol abuse is no small feat. Getting a person to stop drinking can be reassuring, especially for loved ones.

However, the reality is that it takes more than being sober to overcome alcohol addiction. Recovery from alcoholism is a long-term process that can be bumpy at times, even when a person is not drinking.

There are several factors that can make the path towards recovery more difficult, including: how much support a person has, how long they were dependent on alcohol, and whether or not they sought professional treatment.

Some people who have become sober may act negative or continue to behave in ways similar to when they were drunk. This does not mean that they have relapsed, but it can indicate a larger problem. In a few words, this may be a sign that someone is struggling with dry drunk syndrome.

What Is A Dry Drunk?

A “dry drunk” is someone who is sober but continues exhibiting unhealthy habits similar to when they were drunk.

Non-drinking alcoholics with dry drunk syndrome tend to have a negative outlook on their recovery and life in general. This can make it hard to mend relationships with loved ones and get back into a normal, healthy routine.

Dry drunk syndrome can also be a warning sign for relapse. That is, it is more likely for someone with negative habits and behaviors to fall back into a destructive pattern of drinking than someone who is more positive and has healthier coping strategies.

What Causes Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Many people who aren’t in recovery from an addiction themselves can often be confused about how a person can be sober and still behave as they did while drunk. It seems more reasonable that, once a person becomes sober, things can only get better.

When a person receives the right treatment, that is more likely to be the case. However, when someone only stops drinking and does not address the underlying causes of their addiction, this can make it harder – if not impossible – for them to change their habits when sober.

Dry drunk syndrome then can often occur as a result of someone not getting the complete care they need to fully overcome their alcohol addiction. In many cases, this is a person who has attempted to stop drinking on their own without professional treatment.

People that don’t receive treatment for their alcoholism may be able to stop drinking, but may still struggle with the negative behaviors and emotions tied to their addiction.

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Dry Drunk Symptoms And Signs

Dry drunk syndrome is different from moodiness or having an off day in sobriety. It is normal to have days that are more challenging than others.

Many symptoms of a dry drunk are similar to those of someone who is still addicted to alcohol. While a person may not be physically dependent on alcohol and actively drinking, many emotional or behavioral symptoms may still be present.

Some common signs and symptoms of dry drunk syndrome include:

  • anger
  • anxiousness
  • depression
  • general negative outlook
  • irritability
  • engaging in risky or dangerous behaviors
  • replacing alcohol with another vice (e.g. drugs, food, sex, excessive internet use)
  • expressing longing for their past drinking days
  • acting selfishly
  • making harsh judgments about themselves or others
  • having unrealistic expectations about recovery
  • avoiding friends, family, and other loved ones
  • jealousy of others without addiction troubles

Other signs of a dry drunk can relate to their ability to function in their day-to-day lives. For instance, a dry drunk may have trouble getting or keeping a job, maintaining healthy relationships in their personal life, and have difficulty making decisions about their future.

Dry drunks may also act as if they are above going to addiction support groups like AA and 12-Step programs. They may refuse to go to therapy and be in denial of their need to address factors that triggered or contributed to their harmful drinking habits.

Alcoholism is not just about the alcohol. Although getting sober is the first step to recovering from alcohol addiction, it is not the only one. Many people begin drinking as a way to cope with past trauma, or some form of abuse or neglect. Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) also commonly co-occur with depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental and medical problems.

Getting sober in and of itself doesn’t magically solve or erase these previous or ongoing struggles. People that stop drinking but still struggle with anxiety, depression, or other unresolved issues are going to continue to struggle without treatment.

Preventing Dry Drunk Syndrome

Dry drunk syndrome doesn’t just make a non-drinking alcoholic more difficult to be around. It can also be dangerous, increasing the risk for relapse or falling into other addictive patterns.

It is important to remember that people with dry drunk syndrome shouldn’t be made to feel bad or ashamed about their struggles. This can only worsen their behaviors. Alcohol addiction is complex, and recovery can be challenging.

The severity of “dry drunk” symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people can have milder struggles where even small pushes of encouragement or support from loved ones can have a significant positive impact.

This can include:

  • encouraging them to go to therapy and daily support groups
  • talking to them about how they are feeling
  • introducing new interests or hobbies
  • helping them find a job
  • driving them to their counseling appointments
  • bringing them along to social functions and events

A combination of social support and professional treatment from outpatient providers can sometimes be enough to get a person on track in their recovery.

However, this is not true for everyone. People that are experiencing more severe symptoms or are at high risk for relapse or other dangers may need a higher level of support.

If someone has never sought treatment for alcoholism, or is unable to function in their daily routine, intensive treatment within an inpatient rehab program may be needed.

Treatment Options For Alcohol Abuse Recovery

The most effective way to prevent or treat dry drunk syndrome is to get professional help by entering an inpatient rehab program.

Inpatient programs commonly offer a wide array of treatment services that help to treat the whole person, rather than just the alcohol dependency itself. Rehab centers offer supervised, structured settings where a person can receive 24-hour comprehensive care.

Treatment services within an inpatient program may include:

  • individual cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • group therapy/support groups
  • family counseling
  • medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • dual-diagnosis
  • relapse prevention
  • aftercare support

Entering inpatient treatment provides patients with the opportunity to address all aspects of addiction and pursue lifelong recovery.

For help finding alcohol addiction treatment programs suitable for yourself or a loved one, contact one of our treatment specialists today.

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