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dry drunk syndrome

Dry Drunk Syndrome

Dry Drunk Behavior, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Narcissism, Relapse & Rehab Treatment


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What’s a dry drunk?

If you have quit drinking but are still struggling with the negative and destructive attitudes and feelings you did during active addiction, you may be dealing with what’s called a dry drunk syndrome. Originally coined by the creators of Alcoholic Anonymous, the dry drunk syndrome can have a negative impact on the process of giving up drinking both physically and mentally.

While the dry drunk syndrome is most common among people who quit alcohol without the support of addiction professionals, anyone can become a dry drunk, especially during the emotionally charged first year of sobriety. Learning the symptoms of the dry drunk syndrome as well as a few strategies to better cope can help you or someone you love to move past this stumbling block toward lasting recovery.

dry drunk syndrome
The dry drunk syndrome can have a negative impact on the process of giving up drinking both physically and mentally.

What Causes Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Sobriety is different than recovery. The dry drunk syndrome is also referred to as “white-knuckling.” If you’re not drinking but you’re still on edge or craving alcohol but not getting treatment, you may be experiencing this. You may still be struggling with the emotional and psychological issues that led you to drink. ‌

If you’re in sobriety but not in recovery, you may be at risk of developing another addiction. If you haven’t dealt with your underlying issues, you may substitute one addiction for another. The dry drunk syndrome may also be part of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which is when withdrawal symptoms last longer than expected. This is also known as protracted withdrawal. ‌

The dry drunk syndrome is when you turn to destructive coping habits instead of developing healthy habits. For recovery to be successful, you have to deal with any mental health issues or trauma that contributed to your substance abuse problems.


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Dry Drunk Symptoms

The dry drunk syndrome doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, the following symptoms can develop slowly over time, especially during the first year of recovery.

  • Self-centered or superior attitude (in 12-step circles, this is known as “terminal uniqueness”)
  • Poor impulse control
  • Sour, impatient, or complacent in your recovery
  • Anger and negativity about recovery
  • Resentment toward loved ones
  • Isolating yourself from your support network
  • Increasing anxiety and depression
  • Fear of relapse
  • Jealousy of sober friends or those not dealing with addiction
  • Romanticizing of drinking days
  • Cross-addiction or abuse of other behavioral addictions (sex, food, internet use)

Dry Drunk Behavior

Dry Drunk and Narcissism

Superiority or grandiosity means a return to a self-centered, ‘the world revolves around’ me attitude. Chemically dependent people are self-centered in the extreme, as any therapist or psychiatrist is quick to observe.

With grandiosity, you are setting yourself up to be the center of attention; either superior to everyone around you, or by playing the victim. Either way, you’re distancing yourself from the people and world around you. What you’re saying is “I am not like you” with the implication that rules don’t apply in my particular case.

In 12-step programs, this is commonly known as ‘terminal uniqueness,’ or the belief that I am so unique, that no one could understand or relate to me. Self-pity or superiority characterizes this mentality. Unfortunately, those of us in recovery find that the only thing we ever got from sitting on the ‘pity pot’ was a ring around our butt.

dry drunk syndrome
In 12-step programs, this is commonly known as ‘terminal uniqueness,’ or the belief that I am so unique, that no one could understand or relate to me.

The Dry Drunk May Display Impulsivity

One of the most common attitudes or observable behaviors of people with addiction problems is poor impulse control and impatience. We tend to do what we want, when we want, with little regard for self-harm or the hurt caused to others.

When impulsivity is combined with grandiosity, attention-seeking behavior accelerates to warp speed. Warped expectations that characterize virtually every alcoholic and drug addict feed this impulsiveness. Chemical dependency instills a taste for immediate relief. Years of alcohol and drug abuse almost mold it into addiction’s nature.

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What are the warning signs?

Everyone’s experience is different, but some warning signs of dry drunk syndrome include: 

  • Wanting to be the center of attention
  • Feeling like you’re always the victim
  • Having trouble communicating with other people 
  • Mood swings that range from depression to extreme happiness
  • Fear that you can’t change
  • Anger and resentment towards family and friends who intervened in your drinking
  • Frustration over time wasted due to your alcohol abuse
  • Believing that sobriety is boring 
  • Romanticizing past substance abuse
  • Not acknowledging the problems your substance abuse caused
  • Feeling jealous of people who are showing signs of healthy recovery
  • Believing you always know what’s best
  • Refusing to accept constructive criticism

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Does it Happen to Everyone?

Some individuals assume that people showing signs of this syndrome are about to relapse and drink again, but this isn’t always the case.

Turner, who specializes in addiction treatment in Virginia, explains that while many people use “relapse” to describe a return to substance use, she defines relapse as the process of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that can trigger use. “Given that relapse is a process, it can be identified and interpreted before use happens,” she says.

Based on this definition, the symptoms of “dry drunk syndrome” may constitute a relapse, even if the person doesn’t drink. Keep in mind that relapses are a normal, common part of recovery.

dry drunk syndrome
Some individuals assume that people showing signs of this syndrome are about to relapse and drink again, but this isn’t always the case.

Dry Drunk Treatment

It’s important to understand that quitting drinking without changing lifestyle, behaviors, and thought processes isn’t enough. People become addicted because they started drinking as a way to deal with a problem.

People drink for many reasons, including: 

  • Trauma
  • Social conditioning
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Inability to cope with circumstances
  • Negative beliefs about yourself or your life

The first step in dealing with the dry drunk syndrome is the same as it was for quitting alcohol. You have to recognize it and admit it. Once you do that, you can look for help and support from those around you. You may need to turn to a support group or 12-step program. Connecting with other sober people and establishing healthy routines can help as well. 

Finding Your Purpose

You can overcome dry drunk syndrome by learning to cope with stressors in your life in constructive and creative ways. Some suggestions for finding a sense of joy and meaning in your recovery include: 

  • Find creative ways to express yourself such as music or art.
  • Reach out to people you lost touch with because of your drinking. 
  • Try new spiritual activities. 
  • Volunteer for a cause you believe in. 
  • Start a new business. 
  • Continue your education or get training to change careers. 

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders

If you have the dry drunk syndrome, you may also have a co-occurring disorder, such as depression or anxiety. You may have had this before your addiction. It may have been a contributing factor to your addiction. Symptoms of depression can be similar to symptoms of the dry drunk syndrome.

These can include: 

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Insomnia or restlessness
  • No interest in everyday activities
  • Changes in your appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Going over the same thoughts over and over

Reclaim Your Life From The Dry Drunk Syndrome

Alcoholism is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up rehab treatment & detox center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from alcoholism with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.

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