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What Is a Dry Drunk?

Anybody who’s put in the hard work to reclaim their life following a substance abuse problem knows that the process can be long and arduous; even loved ones of those suffering from alcoholism can clearly see the struggle it takes to get well.

When an individual makes the decision to abstain from partaking in addictive substances (in this case alcohol), they generally go through withdrawals. As difficult as these withdrawals can be, addiction sufferers and their families often have an idea of what to expect once they hit; but not everybody knows that further issues can lurk beneath the surface once you’ve made it through withdrawals.

What is Dry Drunk Syndrome?

The term “dry drunk syndrome” refers to the collection of conditions that can impact individuals who have endured alcohol withdrawal, but still suffer from psychological and behavioral consequences stemming from their addiction. Once a person begins to experience dry drunk syndrome, their body will be well out of the timeframe where a constant craving for alcohol exists.

Generally speaking, dry drunk syndrome is most likely to occur in individuals who underwent a detox and withdrawal process but went without therapy or counseling following those steps. Sometimes, this is because the individual believed they didn’t need additional mental help; others tend to shy away from the oftentimes high costs associated with the mental portion of treatment.

Many people and their loved ones fall into the trap of believing that once they’ve stopped drinking, their life will turn around. It’s true that ending a physical dependence on alcohol can have considerable positive effects on your life– but recovery isn’t simple. This is where dry drunk syndrome comes into play.

History of the Term

The idea of dry drunk syndrome was introduced by the same individuals that created the famous 12-Step program known as Alcoholics Anonymous. A 1970 book entitled The Dry Drunk Syndrome written by R.J. Solberg defined dry drunk syndrome as “the presence of actions and attitudes that characterized the alcoholic prior to recovery.”

Classic signs of alcoholism (or substance abuse in general) may still be present and a part of a recovering alcoholic’s life even once they’ve ended their dependence on alcohol. Those experiencing dry drunk syndrome, according to Solberg, may continue experiencing strained relationships with loved ones and unhealthy internal habits even once alcohol has been removed from their lives.

It’s critical to note that despite the term’s origin in the 12-Step community, dry drunk syndrome is a real and legitimate psychological phenomenon that can afflict any recovering alcoholic. Dry drunk syndrome has nothing to do with completing 12-Step treatment ineffectively– or anything to do with 12-Step treatment at all.

The Psychology

As many who suffer from addiction or have a loved one suffering from addiction know, most substance abuse problems tend to arise as coping mechanisms for the sufferer. Understandably, sufferers and their families hope that once treatment is completed and alcohol is no longer a part of the sufferer’s life, life will “get back to normal” again.

The fact of the matter is that for most alcoholics, life wasn’t normal to begin with– that’s why they turned to alcohol in the first place. Loved ones of recovering alcoholics should be aware that removing the safety blanket of alcohol may cause life to get worse before it starts getting better.

Substance abuse recovery is a painful and deeply personal process. Those who find themselves suffering from dry drunk syndrome may experience deep-seated feelings of guilt and overwhelm when they find themselves responding to pressure “inappropriately.” Physical detoxification is critical to the recovery process, but working to fix the issues that led to alcohol dependency in the first place is essential as well.

Perhaps the best way to consider the psychology of dry drunk syndrome is to understand the position of the patient. Recovering alcoholics aren’t merely concerned with turning down drinks– they’re actively working to piece their lives back together without their previous identity or their metaphorical crutch. This battle alone can make the development of dry drunk syndrome seem far more understandable.

The Warning Signs of Dry Drunk Syndrome

There are a handful of signs that may point to the fact that you or a loved one is struggling with dry drunk syndrome. Because the issue is mental rather than physical, it’s critical to pay close attention to the feelings and more emotional actions of a recovering alcoholic when trying to determine whether dry drunk syndrome is a problem.

The following symptoms may be warning signs that an individual is suffering from dry drunk syndrome:

  • Self-obsession
  • Replacing alcohol with new vices (i.e. food, other substances, sex, etc.)
  • Jealously of friends and loved ones not suffering from addiction
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fear of relapse
  • Anger or intense fear at the prospect of recovery
  • Resentment towards loved ones

What Loved Ones Can Do

For those suffering from dry drunk syndrome, efforts to pull themselves out of the mud can feel futile. This is one time where the support of family and friends can actually help make more impact on a sufferer than medical treatment. With that being said, the first course of action when trying to support somebody experiencing dry drunk syndrome is to push them to continue treatment.

Following that, loved ones can help sufferers cope with their emotions by encouraging them to engage in healthy and stimulating behaviors. Depressive tendencies are a massive facet of dry drunk syndrome– fighting off depression can often come down to getting moving (even mentally!) and staying engaged with your surroundings.

If you want to support a loved one coping with dry drunk syndrome and have already urged them to explore rehab and therapy treatment options, try to encourage them to:

  • Take a class or course to stimulate thinking
  • Explore new spiritual teachings (or rediscover old ones)
  • Spend quality time doing engaging activities with loved ones
  • Learn a new hobby

Treatment Options

With a team effort from loved ones and professionals, individuals suffering from dry drunk syndrome can pull themselves over the hill of recovery and achieve a better life. Those suffering from dry drunk syndrome or supporting somebody who does should maintain close contact with health professionals trained in chemical dependency issues.

For some, simply having a mentor or support partner on call for when things get tough is enough. In other cases, more drastic measures like inpatient treatment for psychological issues may become necessary. The required course of action to combat dry drunk syndrome depends heavily upon each individual’s needs and should be discussed thoroughly with a physician or treatment team.

If you or a loved one is in need of help when it comes to battling withdrawal symptoms or dry drunk syndrome, contact us today. Our knowledgeable, friendly staff will be glad to speak with you about your concerns before starting to work towards getting you on the path to total recovery. Substance abuse is hard and for many, recovery is harder; at BrainSpark Health, we’re seeking to change that.

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