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Dry Drunk Syndrome

Dr. Alan Weiner MD

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Alan Weiner, MD

March 7, 2019

Dry drunk syndrome refers to the condition of when people who have previously been addicted to drugs or alcohol exhibit the same symptoms of being intoxicated even though the substances are gone from their system. This syndrome can be treated to help individuals get back to a life of normalcy.

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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