When a person suffering from alcohol addiction stops drinking, they have taken the first step toward recovery. But maintaining sobriety is a process that takes hard work and daily commitment. One potential challenge for newly sober individuals is what is known as dry drunk syndrome.
What Is Dry Drunk Syndrome?
When a person has stopped drinking but is struggling with the destructive feelings and attitudes they had while drinking, they may be experiencing what is popularly called dry drunk syndrome. The slang term had its beginning in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It refers to the behaviors and traits often seen in active addiction that continue into recovery. While we no longer like to use the term “drunk” to describe a person who struggles with alcohol addiction, the concept of dry drunk syndrome is useful. It helps people remember that addiction is not just a physical problem: it stems from emotional and psychological issues that need to be addressed in long-term recovery.
Signs & Symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome
Naturally, every person is unique and has their own experiences with recovery. However, those who have not fully worked through the emotional aspects of their addiction tend to exhibit several types of behaviors and attitudes. Anxiety, irritability, depression, irresponsible behavior, and impulsivity are common. Some people may have overly judgmental and negative perspectives about themselves, others, and the world. They may behave in ways they used to behave when in active addiction, being indecisive or dishonest and overreacting to people or circumstances. Or they may experience intense emotions and have an increased sensitivity to stress, becoming easily overwhelmed. They may seek to be the center of attention for any reason, positive or negative.
A person in addiction recovery may also display resentment toward friends and family members who interfered with their alcohol use. They may be difficult to communicate with and refuse to accept criticism of their behavior. When they start to complain about sobriety being boring or having fantasies about their drinking days, they are quite likely headed toward relapse.
Dry Drunk Syndrome & Relapse
All of the behaviors and attitudes described above are warning signs for relapse. They signal the person and their loved ones that change is needed in order to continue in recovery.
Relapse is a process, not an event. A relapse begins when the person first goes back to having these types of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Some people may be able to go on for years without drinking again, yet they are miserable and unhealthy. Others may go back to drinking to escape the suffering.
If you recognize these types of behaviors in yourself or in a loved one who is in recovery, you know something needs to change. It’s also important to remember that you are not alone; the addiction relapse rate is high, and everyone struggles with achieving emotional health even after the physical dependence on a substance has been broken.
By recognizing the signs of relapse, it is possible to seek help and adjust the treatment plan to address these issues.
It’s very easy for the category of behaviors called “dry drunk syndrome” to develop when a person does not replace substance use with something positive and fulfilling. Getting professional help in the form of therapy is crucial to long-term emotional wellness, as is being involved in a supportive community and having strong relationships.
There are also several aspects of self-care that will help alleviate the post-addiction mental health issues:
- Make physical health a priority. Practice healthy nutrition, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep.
- Nurture relationships. Spend time with family and friends. Seek family or couples’ therapy to learn how to best communicate with each other. Find fun things you enjoy that you can do together.
- Get a hobby. Whether you take up a new hobby or return to one of the hobbies you used to enjoy, the goal is to find activities that are interesting and enjoyable to fill the time once spent drinking.
- Do something new. Learn to dance or play a musical instrument, take art or cooking classes, volunteer, or join a softball team. The possibilities are endless.
- Seek calm. You can do this by developing your spirituality. Get involved in a faith-based community that makes you feel welcome. Practice mindfulness, yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or visualization.
- Participate in 12-Step Meetings. Share your story, volunteer to set up and break down the room, be in charge of coffee, or offer to give a member a ride to and from the meeting.
Do You Need Help?
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, we can help. You are not alone. Call and speak to a caring professional at English Mountain Recovery, located in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. We will answer your questions and help you along the path to recovery.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.