When a person with an alcohol addiction becomes sober, it is a major achievement. But it is only the first step to long-lasting sobriety. Remaining sober takes a strong commitment and hard work each day. Those in early recovery must continue to address the mindset and behaviors that led to their addiction. If they do not, they are at risk of continuing to behave in ways that foster chaos and may ultimately lead to relapse: what is known in AA as “dry drunk syndrome.”
What Is “Dry Drunk Syndrome”
The phrase “dry drunk syndrome” was coined by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous to describe a person who no longer abuses alcohol but still has the symptoms of alcohol addiction. While we no longer like to call someone a “drunk,” the concept of dry drunk is useful when discussing the reckless, self-harming, impulsive behaviors that some people in recovery continue to demonstrate. Having “dry drunk syndrome” puts a person at an increased risk of relapse.
People caught in a pattern of behaviors associated with their addiction often experience drastic mood swings, making them unstable and unpredictable. Times of deep depression are followed by excited agitation. They are often angry, frustrated, and irritable. Sometimes the person may have difficulty explaining their mood, adding to their frustration. They are impatient and restless. All of their emotions are intensified, and they are easily overwhelmed by stress. Their spirits are low. Often they worry about having the ability to maintain their sobriety.
Someone who has not resolved the issues that led to their addiction is difficult to be around. They can be as unpleasant as they were when using alcohol or drugs. They may act superior, impulsive, irresponsible, or aggressive. They may seem like they are unhappy or dissatisfied with life. They often fantasize or daydream about alcohol. The frustration they feel may lead to dishonest behavior, and they may skip counseling sessions or 12-Step meetings or stop attending altogether. They may take up other addictive behaviors to cope with not drinking, such as gambling or overeating. They are often resentful of people who wanted them to stop drinking or those who can still use alcohol.
Additional behavioral signs include:
- Being indecisive or easily distracted
- Overreacting to circumstances or people
- Feeling bored, detached, self-absorbed, disorganized, or distracted
- Being quick to blame, judge, or criticize themselves
- Having a negative outlook about others, themselves, and the world in general
- Needing to be the center of attention regardless of whether the reason is negative or positive
While classic “dry drunk syndrome” refers to attitudes and behaviors of someone who hasn’t dealt with underlying issues that led to their addiction, it can also be considered part of post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. PAWS is the experience of withdrawal symptoms that can last well into recovery as the person’s brain adapts to the absence of substances. So, even someone who is not drinking may still feel physical symptoms such as periodic clumsiness and poor coordination. Reflexes may be slow, and balance and dizziness may arise. A person with PAWS may have problems sleeping, thinking clearly, focusing, or concentrating. Feelings of complacency, numbness, or anhedonia may occur. People often experience intense cravings for alcohol.
Are Some People More Susceptible to Dry Drunk Syndrome?
Dry drunk syndrome does not happen to everyone. Several factors make a person more susceptible, including:
- If the person does not address the causes of the alcohol abuse by working with a therapist, sponsor, and recovery support group
- If the person leaves their treatment program
- If the person has one or more mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder
- If a person tries to stop drinking on their own without professional treatment, known as white-knuckling
Chances of Relapse
No one is doomed to relapse, no matter how much they experience behavioral, emotional, or physical withdrawal issues. Intervention at any point can help a person get back on track with their health and sobriety.
The best practices for working through PAWS and “dry drunk syndrome” are to participate in all aftercare options post-treatment, work with an individual and/or family counselor, be active in a recovery support community, and practice self-care through diet, exercise, and sleep hygiene.
Are You Struggling Alone?
If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder or feeling in danger of relapse, help is available. Getting the correct treatment is critical for long-term recovery. The professional staff at Anabranch Recovery Center, located in Terre Haute, Indiana, will provide you with the treatment you need to sustain sobriety. Take the first step on your recovery journey. Call us today.
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.