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What is Dry Drunk Syndrome? How to Cope & Recover?


The dry drunk syndrome can have a negative impact on the process of giving up drinking both physically and mentally. Reach out for help to find the best rehab treatment options for you.

By We Level Up | Editor Yamilla Francese | Medically Reviewed By Lauren Barry, LMFT, MCAP, QS, Director of Quality Assurance | Editorial Policy | Research Policy | Last Updated: October 12, 2022

What Is 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 dry drunk syndrome. Originally coined by the creators of the Alcoholic Anonymous groups, 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 and 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
Whats a dry drunk? Dry drunk is a term coined by the creator of Alcoholics Anonymous to describe someone who has quit drinking but maintains negative behaviors after quitting. The dry drunks syndrome can have a negative impact on the process of alcoholism recovery both physically and mentally. what does dry drunk mean? The definition of a dry drunk is an informal term that depicts an alcoholic who no longer drinks but otherwise maintains the same behavior patterns as an alcoholic.

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.

Dry Drunk Syndrome

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What Are The Warning Signs Of Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Alcoholics might exhibit a wide range of bizarre attitudes and behaviors. Some of these continue even after the alcoholic has achieved sobriety. These attitudes and actions are signs of the dry drunk as well. Since they are accustomed to the conduct, loved ones might not notice the symptoms.

Typical indicators of a dry drunk include:

  • Acting conceited, either by pretending to “have all the answers” or playing the “poor me” card.
  • Passively criticizing oneself and others.
  • Acting impulsively or impatiently.
  • Blaming others for one’s own shortcomings.
  • Acting dishonestly, typically starting with small things.
  • Being impulsive or selfish.
  • Having trouble making decisions.
  • Feeling distant, self-absorbed, bored, distracted, or unorganized.
  • Having mood swings, difficulty expressing feelings, or feeling unsatisfied.
  • Longing for a life of drinking.
  • Daydreaming or fantasizing.
  • Refusing to participate in or leaving a 12-step program.

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 Patterns

Dry Drunk Narcissist

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.

In 12-step programs, the emotional state of self-pity and superiority is commonly known as ‘terminal uniqueness,’ or the belief that I am so unique, that no one could understand or relate to me.
In 12-step programs, the emotional state of self-pity and superiority is commonly known as ‘terminal uniqueness,’ or the belief that I am so unique, that no one could understand or relate to me.

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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.

Dry Drunk 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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The Characteristics Of A Dry Drunk

There are typically 6 common characteristics of the “dry drunk” that can hit the recovering alcoholic hard during sobriety in addition to putting added stress and pressure on their relationships.

  • Anger at a partner, father, or another person who “forced them” to give up drinking.
  • Resentment and disappointment with the thought that they will never be able to drink as most people do.
  • Awareness that they may have untapped potential, desires, and goals as a result of their drinking.
  • Feeling forced to bear responsibility without an explanation or justification for the years lost to drinking.
  • Afraid of taking risks or facing challenges because of a sense of failure.
  • Have envy for someone else’s strength, perseverance, and ability to persevere with something.

How Can You Deal With Dry Drunk Syndrome?

It’s critical to realize that quitting drinking won’t be effective unless lifestyle, behavior, and mental patterns are altered. People who started drinking to cope with a problem eventually developed an addiction to it.

There are several reasons why people drink, including:

  • Trauma
  • Societal influences
  • Family history of alcoholism
  • Inability to address a certain sensitive issue
  • Negative attitudes toward oneself or one’s life

As with quitting alcohol, the first step in treating dry drunk syndrome is to identify the problem. You must acknowledge it and accept it. Following that, you might ask individuals in your immediate vicinity for assistance and support. You might need to seek help from a 12-step program or support group. Developing healthy routines and making connections with other sober people might also be beneficial.

Does it Happen to Everyone?

People who exhibit symptoms of this illness are sometimes mistakenly believed to be about to relapse and start drinking again.

While many people use “relapse” to characterize a return to substance use, Turner, who specializes in addiction therapy in Virginia, adds that relapse is the process of ideas, behaviors, and emotions that can cause use. Given that relapse is a process, it may be recognized and understood prior to use, the author claims.

According to this definition, even if a person abstains from drinking, the signs of “dry drunk syndrome” and being a dry alcoholic may still be considered a relapse. Remember that relapses are a typical and natural part of the healing process.

Get the help you deserve to recover from symptoms of dry drunk and alcoholism. Some individuals assume that people showing signs of this syndrome are about to relapse and drink again, but this isn’t always the case.
Get the help you deserve to recover from symptoms of dry drunk and alcoholism. 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 Syndrome FAQs

What Is Dry Drunk Syndrome?

The term “dry drunk syndrome” was developed by the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous to characterize a person who has given up drinking but hasn’t addressed the problems that led to their addiction in the first place.

What Is The Definition of Dry Drunk?

The dry drunk definition could be expressed as occasionally used in addiction rehabilitation; it is not a medical diagnostic, but it nevertheless refers to a real problem. The 12-step recovery community’s early circles are where the colloquial term “dry drunk syndrome” first appeared.

A dry drunk meaning, on the other hand, is essentially someone who has given up drinking entirely yet is still displaying many of the same habits as when they were still drinking.

One significant aspect of the issue that could be resolved by quitting drinking. However, if the underlying issue or reason behind someone’s drinking is not resolved, other unfavorable feelings and actions could persist.

How To Deal With A Dry Drunk

If you have a loved one going through recovery, all of this might be frustrating. They may even seem to be moving backward rather than ahead, in your opinion. But keep in mind that this stage is a somewhat normal aspect of rehabilitation and that it won’t endure indefinitely.

There are a few things you may do to help them in the process:
-Provide reassurance
-Express compassion
-Support healthy hobbies
-Remember to involve self-care in your daily routine

Dry Drunk Treatment

It’s important to understand that quitting drinking without changing lifestyle, behaviors, and thought processes aren’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. 

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Finding Your Purpose

By developing healthy coping mechanisms for stress in your life, you can avoid developing dry drunk syndrome. Listed below are some ideas for finding happiness and purpose in your recovery:

  • Look for unique ways to express yourself, like through music or art.
  • Speak with the people you’ve fallen out of contact with due to your drinking.
  • Engage in spiritual endeavors.
  • Volunteer your time to a charity you support.
  • Launch a new company.
  • If you want to change occupations, further your education, or receive training.

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders

You can also have a co-occurring condition, such as depression or anxiety if you suffer from dry drunk syndrome. Perhaps you had this prior to developing an addiction. It might have played a role in your addiction. Depression’s symptoms can resemble those of dry drunk syndrome.

These can include: 

  • Mood changes
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Insomnia or agitation
  • No desire to engage in routine activities
  • Alterations to your appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Repeatedly going over the same ideas

Daily Dry Drunk Recovery Routines

Staying dedicated to your recovery practices will help you avoid experiencing dry drunk syndrome once you’re clean and on the road to recovery. ‌

You can maintain sober in addition to your rehabilitation by using the following advice:

  • Adhere to your aftercare treatment schedule.
  • Participate in 12-step meetings.
  • Seek a sponsor.
  • Be open and honest about your feelings and challenges.
  • Use your medication as recommended.
  • Discover new activities and enjoy yourself.
  • Use constructive coping mechanisms like meditation.

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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Helping a loved one dealing with mental and/or substance use disorders. (n.d.).
Melemis, S. M. (2015). Relapse prevention and the five rules of recovery.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome. (2019).

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). (n.d.).
Treatment for alcohol problems: Finding and getting help. (2021).
Understanding alcohol use disorder. (2021). “dry drunk.” (n.d.).

The dry drunk: A hazard for recovering alcoholics. (2018)
Worden M, et al. (1980). The dry drunk syndrome: A toximolecular interpretation.
Psychology Today. (2010). – Being “sober” versus being in “recovery”.

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