Dry Drunk Syndrome: What is it?

I want to start this post with transparency, I do not have my own lived experience of alcohol or substance use. I have however taken the time to research and learn about substance use in order to write and speak about it with others. I have worked with people who are actively using, people in recovery, and the loved ones who are impacted by the addiction. Regardless of the lens I have seen addiction through, there has been a common thread, and that is that addiction is extremely difficult to live with and recover from. From the individual with the addiction who may be utilizing drinking as a way to cope with emotional and mental distress to the sibling who struggles to understand why drinking or other substances are the chosen coping skill despite negative outcomes, addiction is hard. That is why I am here to talk about an aspect of addiction and recovery that honestly, I wasn’t aware of until recently. I’m talking about Dry Drunk Syndrome.

In my research I found definitions from AA, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Advanced Recovery Systems that differed slightly in verbiage but essentially came down to the same meaning. Someone who may be considered a ‘dry drunk’ has stopped using alcohol, for any amount of time, and is sober in that aspect. This has resolved any physical dependence on the drug, but there is continued engagement in the same cognitive and behavioral patterns that the individual engaged in when using. The continuation of this negative cycle of thinking and behaving is in response to the unresolved emotional and mental conditions of the individual. In other words, Dry Drunk Syndrome often occurs when an individual has started recovery (ended the physical dependence), but has not followed through or completed it(addressed emotional concerns). However, there are exceptions. You do not have to be new to recovery to develop Dry Drunk Syndrome as it has been found to occur in those who have been in recovery and are on the path towards a relapse. According to my research, regardless of where someone is at in their recovery, it is those who try to abstain and recover independently from a program, therapy, or doctors, that we find the most individuals in a Dry Drunk stage of recovery.

Now, how are we to know if someone is in this state of recovery? What I have done is compiled a longer list from my research of all potential signs and symptoms so here it is:

·         Resentment towards friends and family, especially those who have been crucial in the individual’s recovery

·         Anger or negativity surrounding recovery

o   Feeling frustrated by sobriety

o   Refusing treatment or support

o   Frustration in never being able to drink without fear of relapse

o   Anger about what drinking has taken away from the individual

o   Feeling burdened by responsibility for damage by drinking

o   Short-term focus

·         Being self-obsessed

·         Replacing drinking with a new addiction

·         Jealousy of others with positive coping abilities

·         Problems at work or school

·         Deterioration of relationships

·         Dishonesty

·         Isolation

·         Associating with others who drink heavily or attending bars and clubs

·         As a supporter, feeling fearful of mood changes, emotional overreactions, hurtful statements, and antisocial behavior

·         Depression

·         Anxiety

·         Romanticizing days of drinking


So now what? As someone who is supporting another individual in recovery, continue to support them. Support looks like encouraging the individual to seek treatment in ways that include AA, therapy (individual or group based), or another recovery-based program. Support is also in the form of reducing stigma around addiction and recovery. Within the name of Dry Drunk Syndrome comes the stigma of a ‘drunk’. The purpose of it in this context is to symbolize the same headspace of when someone is an active user, but overall ‘drunk’ has a negative connation as a word. To fight against stigma and reduce harm to those you support, use terms such as ‘person trying to recover’, ‘person in early recovery’, and ‘person new to sobriety’.

-Courtney, Graduate Intern

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