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Dry Drunk: Signs, Risks, and Getting Help

Giving up alcohol is the first step in living a sober lifestyle. But for many people, the work doesn’t stop there. Not drinking anymore might not be the solution to all of their problems. Many people still suffer from the emotional and psychological issues that caused their drinking in the first place.

When this happens, it’s sometimes referred to as “dry drunk syndrome.” While the terminology for the condition might sound a bit stigmatizing—words like “drunk” are outdated and harmful for people recovering from an alcohol use disorder—it’s still important for you to know the signs and symptoms of dry drunk syndrome so that you can help a loved one who’s struggling with their sobriety.1

What Is “Dry Drunk”?

The term “dry drunk” is used to describe someone recovering from an alcohol addiction who isn’t using alcohol but is still stuck in the mindset of using alcohol. In other words, though they are physically sober, their mental and emotional state may still be that of someone who does drink.2

The term “dry drunk” was first used in the 12-Step Alcoholics Anonymous program, and it’s since spread to more mainstream use. Typically, those suffering from dry drunk syndrome are people who have recently stopped drinking and haven’t had time to work through the other catalysts and consequences of their addiction. That’s why it’s more common in people who have underlying trauma or mental health issues.2

Experiencing the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome is not uncommon. In fact, as many as 75% of those recovering from alcohol misuse may experience protracted withdrawal—a range of symptoms that can persist for weeks or months after abstaining from alcohol—at some point in their recovery.3

Dry Drunk Signs and Symptoms

Everyone is different, so the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome can sometimes be hard to recognize. That said, potential symptoms of a “dry drunk” may include:4

  • Acting self-important.
  • Blaming others for their own problems.
  • Dishonesty and lying.
  • Fantasizing about drinking.
  • Feeling detached or dissatisfied.
  • Impatience.
  • Impulsive or selfish actions.
  • Mood swings that go from sadness to happiness to anger.
  • Problems with decision-making.

You may notice that many of these symptoms are similar to those of functioning alcoholics. If you’re used to your loved one behaving this way, you might not even realize that “dry drunk” behavior isn’t normal after a person stops drinking.

Dry Drunk Risks

A “dry alcoholic” can be at risk for a number of problems. Many of the behavioral issues related to the syndrome can wreck already tenuous professional and personal relationships. Without the right support or a way to support themselves, the person in question might also develop anxiety or depression. In fact, depressive disorders are the most common mental health issue faced by people with alcohol use disorder, with sufferers being 2.3 times more likely to develop depression than the general population.5

There is also a risk of relapse, especially when a person starts drinking again. Overall, about 40% to 60% of people suffering from substance use disorder have a relapse at some point.6 This can be dangerous for several reasons, one of which is a lowered tolerance.

When a person drinks regularly, they develop a tolerance, meaning they need more alcohol to feel the same effects. After not drinking for a while, tolerance starts to go down, but your loved one may still try to drink like they usually did. This puts them at risk for an alcohol overdose, among many other harmful effects of alcohol on the body.

How To Help a Loved One Struggling

Dry drunk recovery is possible, especially if you help your loved one in their time of need. One option is to convince them to seek alcohol addiction treatment from an inpatient or outpatient facility. These facilities use evidence-based practices to help address the mental and emotional aspects of addiction that are often overlooked.

You may also consider recommending that your loved one join a support group, such as AA. These groups typically meet on a weekly basis and can be a great way to get actionable advice from people who have been in their shoes. Therapy is another good choice, as it can sometimes help to work through issues one-on-one with a qualified medical professional.

As an onlooker, you can’t force your loved one into treatment. But you can help guide their path by learning about addiction, researching the best outpatient treatment centers in your area, and even attending AA meetings with them. Many people suffering from dry drunk syndrome also need help finding their passion to motivate them through this dark time, so help them find something they can dedicate their life to.

Find Out if Your Insurance Plan Covers Alcohol Addiction Rehab

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of evidence-based treatment for alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorder (AUD). To find out if your insurance covers alcohol addiction treatment at an AAC facility, contact us at or fill out the form below to verify your insurance online. Your information is kept 100% confidential, and there is no obligation to enter treatment.

 

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