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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.

When it comes to treating alcohol abuse and alcoholism, a lot of focus is put on getting the detoxing and remaining abstinent from the substance. This is all for a very good reason, as alcoholism is extremely hard on your body and can lead to fatal outcomes early on or down the road. However, the substance itself is not the only dangerous component when it comes to alcoholism.

In addition to the physical dependency and bodily harm that can stem from alcoholism, there are many emotional and behavioral outcomes that can present themselves as a side effect of the disease. These outcomes can be extremely destructive on an individual’s life, and may not necessarily end even if the drinking does. This is known as dry drunk syndrome, and it can be just as damaging to someone’s life as alcoholism is.

What Is A Dry Drunk?

A dry drunk is an individual who has previously been addicted to alcohol or other drugs, and continues to act in a similar manner to when they were using or drinking despite having become clean in the meantime. Although the term ‘dry drunk’ seems to point in the direction of a previous alcoholic, it can apply to a previous addiction of any type of drug.

Alcoholism is commonly characterized by anger, irritability, mood swings, self-pity, a sense of entitlement, blaming, and an overall miserable demeanor. With someone who suffers from dry drunk syndrome, these characteristics will tend to continue despite their consumption of alcohol ending. The continuation of these attitudes, moods, and overall outlook on life can often come as a surprise to many recovering alcoholics, as they had expected their sobriety to fix many of the other issues in their lives.

While recovering from the physical dependence of alcoholism is a significant milestone in any alcoholic’s’ journey to recovery, it is often not the only problem that needs to be addressed. Dry drunk syndrome is commonly overlooked or misunderstood, as recovering from the physical dependency itself is generally seen as the main problem of any addiction.

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Alcoholism: Main Problem Or Symptom Of The Problem?

For many alcoholics who are recovering or trying to recover, it is common to believe that drinking was their only problem. With this mindset, it can be difficult to accept the fact that their emotions and behaviors won’t necessarily change even if their drinking habits have. What this means is drinking isn’t necessary the root problem of their addiction, but rather the emotions and behaviors that surround drinking.

No one sets out to become an alcoholic, it is a not a disease that individuals willingly strive for. Heavy drinking that leads into alcoholism is more of a symptom than a problem. When viewing alcohol as a symptom to a larger problem, it is easier to see why overcoming the physical dependency itself is only one part of the recovery process.

It is important to ask yourself, “why did I start drinking in the first place?” It likely was not a desire that came out of the blue, but rather a perfect alignment of contributing factors from your environment, upbringing, genetics, behaviors, and emotional traumas. If these contributing factors are not properly addressed and treated, then it is likely that the characteristics of alcoholism will stick around even if the substance itself does not. This can also lead to a high risk of relapsing, as the emotional distress and initial triggers that lead to alcoholism have still not been addressed.

Signs And Symptoms Of Dry Drunk Syndrome

Dry drunk syndrome can often be difficult to diagnose or accept, as it is very much a personality-based syndrome. However, there are some telltale signs that can point to dry drunk syndrome. Some symptoms to look out for include:

  • Anger, irritability
  • A sense of “you owe me”
  • Emotionally distant or cold
  • Self-obsession
  • Resentfulness, especially at friends or family who are happy
  • Self-pity
  • Anxiety
  • A feeling of euphoria when thinking about your ‘past life’
  • Boredom and dissatisfaction with your sober life
  • Blaming your issues or feelings on others
  • Fear of relapse

It is important not to sell yourself short – if you believe many of your thoughts, actions, and emotions don’t represent who you are, you may be suffering from dry drunk syndrome. You don’t have to accept your anger, irritability or mood swings as the new norm, there are many programs out there to help you get back to the old you. Companies such as Addiction Campuses can help provide insight into many of these programs, and offer resources that can help you choose a rehab program that will work for you.

Treatment For Dry Drunk Syndrome

Despite it not technically categorized as substance addiction, it is possible to treat dry drunk syndrome. More importantly, it is possible to prevent dry drunk syndrome from happening in the first place. The key is to treat all aspects of your addiction, not just those that are physical or measurable.

Many addictions are influenced by environmental factors such as high stress or severe emotional trauma. It is vitally important to address these factors with a professional to identify the root cause of any addiction. Many inpatient rehabilitation facilities offer well-rounded and multifaceted treatment programs that are intended to treat all aspects of addiction. It is important to choose a rehab facility that believes in treating all components of addiction, not just the physical or substance based factors.

These programs will usually provide some form of medical detox to help rid your system of the alcohol safely with as little discomfort as possible. Once your body has properly detoxed, the emotional healing can begin. Inpatient programs can offer one on one counseling sessions, group therapy, outpatient meetings, and alumni events to help you work through the emotional and behavioral components of your addiction, often uncovering one or many root causes that lead you to alcohol in the first place. These sessions, meetings, and events are also intended to provide continued support for you to lean on, even once you have completed an inpatient program.

Finally, these programs can help lead you to a happier and healthier life by coaching you through these emotions and helping you make better behavioral choices in the future. Participating in a well-rounded inpatient rehabilitation program is one of the best actions you can take when it comes to having a full recovery from alcoholism. Each phase of these programs takes you further from the risk of a relapse, and can help you live a happier life than you ever have before.

Find A Program That Can Help You

If you believe a multifaceted rehabilitation program like the ones mentioned above could help you or a loved one suffering with alcoholism or dry drunk syndrome, give us a call today. Our addiction treatment specialists are experts when it comes to matching clients with a program that fits both their needs and expected outcomes. Your call is always confidential, and you can reach us around the clock. Let us help you start your road to a full recovery and get your life back.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol's Damaging Effects on The Brain

Psychology Today- - Is There a "Dry Drunk" in Your Life? -

WebMD - Substance Abuse Community

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