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Dry Drunk Syndrome : Sobriety Without the Relief of Recovery

Many people with alcohol misuse and abuse issues probably understand the importance of quitting drinking, but few may know that Dry Drunk Syndrome is closely tied to real recovery.

Bodily injuries often require physical therapy during and after the healing process. The benefits of rehab are that a person experiences less pain, gets back some or all of their mobility and avoids further complications down the road.

Without spending time in physical therapy, a person increases the risk of further injury or not healing completely. The same can be said about recovering from alcoholism and alcohol addiction.

What is a Dry Drunk?

Getting sober is certainly a vital part of the recovery process, but without treating the underlying causes of the disease, the rehab part of recovery, a person will often be plagued by the symptoms of being a “dry drunk.”

The meaning of Dry Drunk Syndrome is loosely defined as an alcoholic or person with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) who abstains from alcohol for a period of time, but continues to have the same symptoms as a person that is still living with an active alcohol addiction.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that just over 15 million adults in the U.S. suffer from alcohol dependency or addiction. Unfortunately, less than one 1 million of those people ever receive proper treatment for alcoholism.

Two Categories of Dry Drunk Syndrome

Though anyone in recovery from addiction can be at risk, people suffering from dry drunk syndrome generally fall into one of two categories:

  • Individuals that received some form of addiction treatment, but stopped attending therapy, support groups or relapse prevention programs because they think or believe that not drinking alcohol is enough to recover
  • Those suffering from alcohol dependency or alcoholism that never received any form of treatment, but stopped drinking on their own due to the continued negative consequences of their behavior

In both cases, people living with dry drunk syndrome have not been treated for the root causes, or underlying psychological drivers of addiction and are likely still suffering significant mental and emotional pain and turmoil.

In some cases, dry drunk behavior can actually be more unpredictable and dry drunks can experience a spike in their symptoms in the absence of alcohol consumption.

For friends or family who desperately wish their loved one would finally quit drinking, this can come as a shock and put greater amounts of stress on already strained relationships.

Dry Drunk Symptoms

Dry drunk symptoms and behavior will vary from person to person depending on the length of time they have been using alcohol on a regular basis, and the amount of alcohol they drink each day.

For those with a serious addiction spanning many years, or those who have mental health issues that complicate matters, the signs and symptoms will probably be more pronounced.

In General, Dry Drunk Symptoms Often Include Some of the Following:

  • A nostalgia for past drinking days, seemingly forgetting about or ignoring the damage and negative consequences alcohol caused in their life
  • Severe mood swings, from depression to irritability
  • Impulsive, risky or unhealthy behaviors
  • A sense of self-pity or acting as if they’re a victim
  • Difficulty concentrating on anything, but negative thought patterns
  • Extremely high risk of relapse

Dry Drunk Syndrome

How to Avoid Dry Drunk Syndrome

There are several ways to avoid dry drunk syndrome and live a healthier, happier life in recovery. Perhaps most important is to finish all aspects of treatment, including the very important work of examining the underlying psychological causes of addiction.

Very often there are other issues at work that need to be addressed, such as the presence of chronic depression, past trauma that’s gone unaddressed or even physical problems like chronic pain that create a desire for people to self-medicate with alcohol.

Without treating these issues, it’s difficult for a person to make a full recovery.

Stable, lasting recovery from alcoholism takes work and it’s necessary to have the tools needed to cope with life’s inevitable stressors.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based, skill-oriented therapy that teaches people how to engage in adaptive thinking. When a person learns the relationship between their thought processes, emotional state and behavior, they’re empowered to make better decisions.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is another treatment modality that is helpful for motivating a person to not only seek treatment, but to also want to get sober and actually work on their recovery so they will become healthier.

Relapse Prevention Therapy is recommended to learn how to avoid triggers and cravings, and deal with them responsibly when they make recovery challenging. Anyone can stop drinking for a short time, but preventing relapse is where the real struggle begins.

Don’t Try Quitting Alcohol Alone

For people already in recovery, it’s important to know the signs of dry drunk syndrome symptoms and behavior so they don’t lead to emotional turmoil and, ultimately, relapses.

Initial treatment is the first step, and sometimes that begins with an alcohol detox program to safely and comfortably manage withdrawal symptoms. People who try to detox alone at home often fail because withdrawal becomes too physically and emotionally difficult, so they begin drinking again.

After detox and a formal treatment program has been completed, the tools and techniques learned should be practiced regularly after leaving treatment.
Continuing to focus on cognitive therapies and relapse prevention techniques can do wonders, but finding a support group like AA or SMART Recovery will strengthen recovery and offer lasting results.

With a person who has quit drinking and is finally sober, but living with dry drunk syndrome symptoms, it’s crucial for family and friends to also provide positive support and encouragement when possible.

Many times it’s impossible for somebody to know they exhibit dry drunk symptoms on their own, especially when they think being sober only means not drinking alcohol.

Calmly point out that they still suffer from the same issues they had before they started drinking or before they quit. Seeking help from a professional addiction specialist can help them overcome all of the problems causing turmoil in their life, not just drinking.


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Dry Drunk Syndrome : Sobriety Without the Relief of Recovery
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Dry Drunk Syndrome : Sobriety Without the Relief of Recovery
Dry Drunk Syndrome is loosely defined as an alcoholic who quit drinking, but still has symptoms of alcohol addiction. What are typical dry drunk symptoms?
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Inspire Malibu
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