Dry Drunk: Behavior, Symptoms, and Recovery

Learn more about the potential causes and symptoms of dry drunk syndrome and available treatment options.

Table of Contents

What is a Dry Drunk?

Achieving sobriety from alcohol addiction can be challenging. Unfortunately, even after going to rehab, relapse can still occur. Remaining sober after treatment requires a lifelong commitment to avoiding alcohol. One concern for people who are newly sober or those who have achieved and maintained sobriety is being dry drunk.
When someone is a dry drunk, they exhibit a set of negative behaviors and thoughts. It is easy for someone recovering from an alcohol use disorder to begin displaying dry drunk behaviors.1
dry drunk

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Dry Drunk Risks

It is also crucial to recognize that if a loved one presents with dry drunk traits, it may suggest a relapse is about to occur. The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous developed the term dry drunk to describe a person who has stopped abusing alcohol but has yet to address the root causes of their addiction. While there has not been extensive research on dry drunk syndrome, it is believed to be a part of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

What Are the Symptoms of a Dry Drunk?

When someone is addicted to alcohol, they often develop a pattern of negative behavioral and emotional symptoms. It is not uncommon for many of these symptoms to persist even after they stop drinking. These same patterns are also dry drunk symptoms. Much like when they were actively abusing alcohol, someone with dry drunk syndrome (sometimes called dry alcoholic) will exhibit various behavioral and emotional symptoms.

Behavioral Symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome

Although the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome will vary from person to person, examples of common behaviors may include:
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Dishonesty
  • Skipping scheduled AA (peer support) meetings or therapy sessions
  • Experimenting with other addictive behaviors

Emotional or Internal Symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome

In addition to dry drunk behavior patterns, a person may also experience emotional symptoms. Again, many dry drunk symptoms mirror those of someone who is actively drinking. These symptoms may include:3
  • Brain fog
  • Problems with focus and concentration
  • Alterations in mood
  • Feelings of guilt or resentment
  • New or worsening mental health symptoms, including depression and anxiety

Causes of Dry Drunk Syndrome

A person with dry drunk syndrome is someone who has achieved and maintains sobriety but still exhibits many of the same behaviors from when they were actively drinking. Some people may describe it as “acting drunk” when sober. It is crucial to note that, while not an official diagnosis, if a loved one exhibits the characteristics of a dry drunk, it is a sign they may need help to avoid relapse.

There is no timeline for dry drunk syndrome. It is possible for someone to develop these behaviors shortly after leaving alcohol rehab or to develop dry drunk tendencies after years of sobriety. There are several potential causes of dry drunk syndrome, but each person’s situation is unique.

Factors to Consider

Some of the most common factors that contribute to someone becoming a “dry alcoholic” may include:
  • The use of unhealthy trigger management tools over those learned during therapy
  • Minimal or no sober support (especially in one’s home environment)
  • A behavioral health concern (such as an underlying mental health diagnosis) that remains unresolved
  • Misunderstandings about life after alcohol addiction

Is Dry Drunk Syndrome a Sign of Relapse?

If someone exhibits dry drunk behavior, it is not a sign they have or are having a relapse. Dry drunk syndrome describes behaviors that mimic the behaviors one displayed when actively drinking. Relapse occurs when someone who has been sober begins consuming alcohol again.4
However, having dry drunk syndrome and attempting to manage the physical and emotional challenges accompanying it can put someone at a higher risk for relapse.

How to Cope with Dry Drunk Syndrome

The options for preventing, coping, and recovering from dry drunk syndrome are similar. If you or someone you know may be exhibiting symptoms or behaviors mimicking those of dry drunk syndrome, the coping strategies detailed below may be helpful.

Communicate with Others

Isolation is often a root cause of relapse and may also contribute to dry drunk behaviors. Sobriety can be difficult to maintain when you feel like you are alone. Having support from loved ones and others who share a similar sober mindset is an excellent way to overcome challenges to your sobriety.
It is important to foster and maintain connections with those who have supported your recovery and ongoing sobriety goals. Staying connected may look different from person to person and could involve talking to family and loved ones, making an active effort in a peer support group, or engaging in sober social activities.

Practice Self-Care

Caring for your mind and body is a crucial element of lasting recovery. It isn’t easy to focus on maintaining wellness if you do not feel physically and mentally healthy. Remember that challenges to recovery and sobriety are common, and you are not alone in what you are experiencing. During this time, taking care of your body and treating yourself with compassion is essential.

A few suggestions include:
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Taking time out for yourself
  • Spending time with the people you love
  • Exercising

Develop New Coping Skills

During alcohol rehab, people learn various coping tools (trigger management) as part of their recovery journey. But, if certain skills are not working, it is crucial to find new ones that will be more beneficial. Reach out to your therapist or members of your sober community for advice. Those who share similar successes and challenges on their recovery journeys are often a wealth of helpful information and support.

Treatment for Dry Drunk Syndrome

Treatment for dry drunk syndrome is similar to treatment for an alcohol use disorder because dry drunk and alcohol abuse share several common symptoms, with one exception: the use of alcohol. Until relapse, someone who is sober drunk (dry drunk) does not drink; therefore, detoxification is likely not a necessary first step if rehab begins before relapse.

Treatment Plans and Opportunities

At a treatment program for dry drunk syndrome, counselors will develop a treatment plan to help you return to your recovery journey. No matter where you are in your recovery, evidence-based therapy models such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and alternative (holistic) therapy options can help reinforce previously learned coping techniques while teaching new ones that might be more effective.

Another important treatment element for dry drunk syndrome is peer support groups or 12-Step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Participation in these groups can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness that can trigger dry drunk symptoms or even promote relapse. Having a strong sober support group can be helpful when facing challenges to your sobriety in the future.

Get Help for Dry Drunk Syndrome at Profound Recovery

Treatment for dry drunk syndrome is very similar to the treatments for an alcohol use disorder. Seeking help at a rehabilitation center to get back on track in your journey to recovery is crucial to avoiding relapse and preventing further challenges to your sobriety. At Profound Recovery, our team of caring, professional medical and mental health providers will work with you and your family to develop an individualized care plan focused on helping you heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Without treatment to help develop new coping tools or to better understand the root causes of addiction that may have gone unaddressed during your first time in rehab, dry drunk symptoms are unlikely to be resolved. Left untreated, they may eventually lead to addiction.
dry drunk syndrome

Contact Us at Profound Recovery

If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of dry drunk symptoms, Profound Recovery is here to help. Contact a member of our admissions team at Profound Recovery today for more information about available treatment options for dry drunk syndrome.

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