If you are in recovery or have been around others in recovery the term, ‘dry drunk’ is something you’ve most likely heard. “He’s been in recovery for 10 years but he’s a dry drunk” or “She acts like that because she’s a dry drunk” are ways you may have heard this term used. So just what is a dry drunk and how do you know if you—or a loved one—are a dry drunk?
A dry drunk or dry drunk syndrome is a term first coined by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). If you are a dry drunk or have dry drunk syndrome, you most likely have stopped using alcohol or another substance but continue to act in the same ways you did when you were using.
Individuals who seek help for addiction to alcohol or drugs, often think that putting down the drink or drug is the answer—and the only thing needed. And while not using your substance of choice is the first vital step in recovery, it is not all there is to recovery, particularly maintaining long-term recovery.
For many with addiction issues, they used alcohol or drugs to help them to cope with past trauma, mental health issues such as anxiety, or to help destress from an overwhelming lifestyle. Someone becomes a dry drunk when they put down the drink (or drug) but don’t get the help they need for the underlying problems. Problems that perpetuated the addiction to start.
In an article in Psychology Today, author Carole Bennet M.A. described a dry drunk in this way, “One that abstains from alcohol, but is still grappling with the emotional and psychological maladies that may have fueled their addiction to begin with and continues to have a stranglehold on their psyche.”
As you can see from this definition, putting down the drink or drug is just the first step on the road to recovery. A road that can at times be bumpy.
If you or someone you love is either struggling with putting down a drink or drug —or—are living as a dry drunk, Futures Recovery Healthcare can help. Offering three different programs for the treatment of addiction as well as a mental health unit solely devoted to mental health issues, Futures uses evidence-based programming to help individuals recover body, mind, and soul from addiction.
And just why is evidence-based programming so important? Treating the entire person with a comprehensive approach using therapy proven to help work through the underlying issues causing addiction is vital to avoiding becoming a dry drunk and to support long-term recovery.
This is why it is essential to find an addiction treatment center that understands this and provides all that is needed for long-term recovery from alcohol or another substance.
Signs of A Dry Drunk
You can be a dry drunk if you are two weeks sober or if you have 20 years sober. There are many who go through their entire recovery still plagued by the awful feelings they experienced when they were using. The only difference is they have put the substance down.
Living in this way causes pain for not only the individual but also for those who care about them. When it comes to getting sober, just about everything needs to change in order to truly experience freedom from addiction.
This can be a daunting thought for many in active addiction. Leaving behind the way of life they knew and the only ways they have to cope with problems is scary. It is essential to have the support to work through this challenging time. This is why many simply put down the substance and do no more in their recovery. This often leaves them as dry drunks.
So how do you know if you or a loved one are actually a dry drunk? Take a look at the following list of symptoms of a dry drunk and see if you can relate to any:
- Ongoing emotional issues such as anger, irritability, depression, anxiety, etc.
- Continuing the same lifestyle but not drinking or using drugs
- Showing jealousy of friends or others who can drink safely
- Romanticizing drinking and reminiscing often about their drinking days
- Being restless, irritable, and discontent
- Resenting family and loved ones for past issues or conflicts
- Continuing to be self-centered and self-obsessed
- Being angry for no apparent reason
- Substituting another addiction such as sex or gambling instead of alcohol or another substance
- Ongoing relationship issues with others
When you are asking yourself, “Am I a dry drunk?” you should look at how your life, behaviors, feelings, and relationships with others have changed—or not changed. Recovery is not simply about not drinking or using another substance. Recovery is about changing how you think and how you handle problems that come your way.
If you are wondering if your loved one is a dry drunk, you should also look for any changes in their behaviors and patterns from before they began recovery to now when they are in recovery. An individual who is truly recovering fully from addiction will show different ways of acting and reacting. These behaviors are key to knowing if they (or you) are a dry drunk.
Emotional Sobriety in Recovery
Another term closely associated with ‘dry drunk’ is emotional sobriety. Emotional sobriety is when an individual has not only stopped the use of the substance but has also worked on the underlying problems causing addiction as well as changing their ways of dealing with their uncomfortable feelings.
According to Bill W. co-founder of AA, emotional sobriety is essential for sustained recovery. In a letter he wrote to a friend in the 1950s, Bill W. talks about emotional sobriety and how it is essential for a happy life. Bill W. discusses in this letter how he has replaced his unhealthy dependence on alcohol with an unhealthy dependence on people and circumstances.
He goes on to describe how this unhealthy dependence on things outside of himself has led to ongoing depression. He notes that without addressing these issues, sobriety may either not last, or may be very difficult and filled with fear and unhappiness. His answer is to expand spirituality and his relationship with God or a Higher Power.
However, today, when it comes to emotional sobriety, it is looked at a bit differently. And while the spiritual aspect is vital, there is more. Learning new ways to cope and respond to difficult situations is part of it. But another important piece of emotional sobriety is learning to deal with feelings—particularly uncomfortable ones.
For many in addiction, they have spent years pushing down uncomfortable feelings or memories. Emotional sobriety involves learning to feel these feelings, walk through them, and stay sober.
And while it may seem nearly impossible, thousands upon thousands of people have learned new coping skills and have learned to successfully manage and understand their feelings. They have also learned to walk through very difficult situations and stay sober both physically and emotionally.
If you or a loved one are living as a dry drunk and emotional sobriety has been elusive, there are steps you can take to change that so you can finally discover the true freedom and peace of mind that come with long-term sobriety.
What to Do If You or a Loved One are a Dry Drunk
Being a dry drunk can be painful and discouraging just as active addiction can be. Putting down the drink or other substance and still feeling the same emotions of hopelessness, depression, anxiety, anger, and frustration can be very discouraging. You or your loved one may feel like there is no point in trying and want to give up on sobriety.
It’s important to understand that anyone can achieve emotional sobriety and avoid the dry drunk syndrome. If you think that you or a loved one may be a dry drunk there are things you can do to help.
The first step is to continue with or seek professional help. If you are in treatment, talk to your therapist or care team about this. If you have been in treatment but are now out, it’s vital to reach out for aftercare support. This may mean finding a therapist trained to work with individuals with addiction issues on an outpatient basis, getting into an intensive outpatient program to help kickstart your emotional recovery, or even for some going back into treatment at a rehab using comprehensive, evidence-based treatment programs which address this aspect of recovery.
Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT) are both helpful for individuals in recovery. Additionally, finding a treatment center with a strong alumni program is important. This allows you to have ongoing support and care from professionals who know you, your recovery, and how to best support you.
The road to recovery isn’t always easy and is an ongoing journey of self-discovery, growth, and change. Embracing all of these aspects will help to secure sustained recovery and true freedom from addiction.
If you or someone you love needs help with an alcohol or substance use disorder or is living as a dry drunk, Futures can help. Our devoted team of caring professionals works tirelessly to help each person who comes to us to find recovery and peace of mind. Reach out today to learn more about Futures. Call us at 866-804-2098.