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Understanding Dry Drunk Syndrome

Have you ever known someone who has stopped drinking alcohol but continues to exhibit behaviors and thought patterns associated with addiction? In the past, this person might have been called a “dry drunk” or referred to as having “dry drunk syndrome.” While we no longer like to label people in this way, the characteristics associated with “dry drunk syndrome” are helpful to understand. 

Understanding the Behaviors Associated with Dry Drunk Syndrome

Sometimes a person may quit drinking but fail to address any of the underlying issues that led to their addiction. When this happens, they may be sober but continue to behave in emotionally immature ways. Someone who is experiencing dry drunk syndrome has a higher risk of relapse than someone who commits to personal growth in recovery. 

The phenomenon of dry drunk syndrome highlights that stopping alcohol use is only the first step in a much longer journey toward healing. Simply removing alcohol from one’s life does not automatically address the deep, often complex root causes of addiction. These underlying issues may involve past trauma, unresolved personal conflicts, or deeply ingrained coping mechanisms.

Dry Drunk Syndrome is Part of Post-acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

A component of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), dry drunk syndrome occurs because the individual’s brain must readjust to the chemical damage caused by alcohol. This process can range from weeks to years. Individuals suffering from PAWS may experience symptoms such as dizziness, slow reflexes, and issues with balance and coordination making them appear as if they are under the influence of alcohol.

The symptoms of dry drunk syndrome can develop slowly, especially during a person’s first year in recovery. Some people may experience one symptom, while others may experience several or all of the symptoms.  Here are ten common signs and symptoms associated with dry drunk syndrome.

  1. Resentment: The person may feel angry or bitter about having to give up alcohol or drugs, which can lead to resenting people who can still use these substances without issues. This resentment may also be directed towards people who are seen as having contributed to the individual’s addiction.
  2. Anger and irritability: The individual may have a short fuse over seemingly minor issues, which can be a sign of not dealing with the underlying emotional turmoil that may have contributed to the addiction in the first place.
  3. Anxiety and depression: Although these feelings might have been present during active addiction, they can continue or even worsen without the substance as a coping mechanism. The failure to address these issues can exacerbate the situation.
  4. Jealousy of others: The individual may feel envy towards people who seem to be able to control their drinking. They may be jealous of those who appear happy and content without substances.
  5. Romanticizing past substance use: The individual may fondly remember times of substance use and “forget” the negative consequences that came with it. This behavior can be dangerous and may lead to relapse if not addressed.
  6. Fear of the future: Without substances as a crutch, the individual may feel uncertain or fearful about dealing with life’s challenges, leading to a pervasive sense of anxiety about what the future holds.
  7. Self-pity: Feeling sorry for oneself for not being able to engage in substance use, seeing oneself as a victim, and often wondering why me? prevents a person from taking responsibility for their recovery.
  8. Compulsive behaviors: Some may turn to other compulsive behaviors, such as excessive eating, shopping, or even working, as a substitute for substance use. While these may seem less harmful, they can still signify an unhealthy coping mechanism.
  9. Lack of interest in recovery work: The person may neglect or lack commitment towards the work required in recovery, such as attending support group meetings, going to therapy, or engaging in healthy activities. This behavior may indicate a resistance to addressing the deeper issues beneath the substance use.
  10. Strained relationships: The person may continue to experience difficulty in personal relationships, demonstrating an inability or unwillingness to communicate effectively, show empathy, or build trust.

Understanding these symptoms is critical for individuals in recovery and people in their support system, as recognizing them can be the first step towards addressing the deeper issues related to addiction and moving towards a more comprehensive and sustainable recovery.

Is Someone You Know Struggling with Addiction?

Anyone can be affected by addiction. It is a treatable, chronic disease. If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction to alcohol or drugs, we can help. At Anabranch Recovery Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, our skilled professionals are committed to providing you with the tools and resources you need to reclaim control of your life. Contact us today and begin your journey towards a sober life.

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.

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