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What Does it Mean to Be a Dry Drunk?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

All alcohol rehab programs have the same goal: to help people stop drinking. Taking the first step toward a healthier, sober lifestyle can be the beginning of a lifelong recovery journey. Choosing to go to treatment is usually a sign that a person wants to break a destructive cycle and develop healthier habits that support lifelong sobriety.

Recovering from alcohol abuse or addiction is not often a straight path. Instead, people in recovery will likely face challenges, setbacks, and frustrations along the way. While some people may imagine that getting sober will fix all their problems and make life perfect, most find that many of their old issues are still there.

Dry drunk syndrome can keep people in recovery from making progress. Learning about dry drunk syndrome may help you find the support you need to move forward in recovery. Reach out to the South Carolina Addiction Treatment specialists to learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment programs or for guidance at any stage of your recovery journey.

What Does it Mean to Be a Dry Drunk?

The term “dry drunk” was first used by the people who developed Alcoholics Anonymous to describe people who exhibit the same unhealthy patterns and behaviors as before recovery. People who develop dry drunk syndrome may have destructive habits, have trouble maintaining their relationships, and do not have the tools to manage stress in healthy ways.

Struggling with dry drunk syndrome is not a sign that someone is weak or not putting effort into recovery. It is an actual psychological condition that responds well to treatment and support.

Symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome

Dry drunk syndrome has several common characteristics. Here are some of the signs someone is struggling with dry drunk syndrome:

  • Resentment toward family and friends
  • Anger, frustration, and negativity about recovery
  • Envying people who do not live with alcoholism
  • Self-obsession
  • Feelings of nostalgia for the days when they were still drinking
  • Shifting their addictive behavior to sex, food, gambling, or other destructive activities

Addiction and mental health experts believe that people are more likely to develop dry drunk syndrome if they do not explore and identify the complex psychological and behavioral roots of their alcohol abuse. People must participate in a comprehensive alcohol rehab program that provides behavioral therapies, education, and ongoing support in addition to treating the physical aspects of alcoholism.

Why Do People Develop Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Recovering from alcohol abuse and alcoholism requires time, patience, and dedication. No one chooses to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Alcoholism is a complex condition that sometimes develops from a need to manage emotional pain or cope with challenges. When people don’t have the tools to deal with stress, they may turn to alcohol or other drugs, which can begin a destructive spiral of substance abuse.

Recovery is often a painful and deeply personal experience. Detox is typically the first step of recovery, when people get the supervision and treatments they need to stop drinking safely. But after detox, the real work of recovery begins. People must work to uncover experiences, beliefs, and patterns that have led them down a path of substance abuse–and they must look at the consequences of their drinking without dulling their emotions with alcohol.

It can be challenging to do this work, and many people need more time to get through the process. Many addiction experts believe dry drunk syndrome is a sign that a person needs more time in treatment, more tools, and more support.

Supporting Someone in Recovery

If you believe a loved one is exhibiting signs of dry drunk syndrome, you can be supportive by encouraging them to seek additional treatment. Many people in recovery feel that they’ve “failed” sobriety if they continue to struggle with recovery or other aspects of their life. Many people disengage from their recovery activities and give up on the idea that they can ever achieve lifelong sobriety.

Friends and family can have a substantial impact on their loved one’s likelihood of staying engaged in recovery. One of the best things you can do for someone struggling with dry drunk syndrome is to encourage them to stay active.

Stimulating behaviors, new experiences, and an active lifestyle can help people manage symptoms of dry drunk syndrome. Some examples of things to suggest are:

  • Learning a new hobby or restarting an old one
  • Taking a class to learn a new hobby, language, skill, or instrument
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Staying socially active
  • Learning about new religious or spiritual practices
  • Participating in alcoholism treatment programs and behavioral therapy

When a loved one struggles in recovery, you can offer them non-judgmental listening and practical advice. Allow your loved one to share their feelings and process emotions that have come up during recovery. Your support may give them the push they need to keep going, even though it feels challenging.

Find Treatment Now

If you or someone you love struggles with alcohol abuse or needs support during recovery, the help you need is available. Reach out to the compassionate specialists at South Carolina Addiction Treatment to learn about our comprehensive treatment programs.