Dry Drunk Syndrome: What is it?

October 1, 2016
Solace Sabah

Dry drunk is a condition wherein someone who has been sober from either alcohol, drugs, or other addictions are no longer enthused by their recovery. It was a phrase first coined by AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) to describe people who were no longer “drinking” but acted so negatively that being drunk was a better option than living sober. There are some discussions online that state it is not a syndrome as such, but a discriminatory means to scold or abuse people who are not committed to a recovery program. [1]

In some circles, this may be true, yet the condition still pervades those in recovery and is a concern for those in early sobriety as this is when the symptoms of this phenomena occur most acutely. Usually, after having experienced the highs of being sober, living life free from the consequences of addiction; life will come to challenge the addict in recovery. A proper recovery program filled with support, therapy, and conviction will be able to override the negativities faced at these trying times.

Yet, many addicts in early sobriety will disregard the tools and harp back to their original addictive personality, which is still alive in spite of recovery. The addiction may be gone, but the personality, which drove it is still alive and well. The danger is that once it is chosen as a way of life, relapse is inevitable unless tools of recovery are used to intervene. Hence, the “Dry Drunk Syndrome” may not be a medically certifiable condition, but its pervasiveness in early recovery entitles it to much serious consideration by addicts and therapists alike!

Symptoms of “Dry Drunkenness”

To be “dry drunk” and to be in “white-knuckle” sobriety is more or less the same thing. They are both a condition of dis-ease with recovery. Below are some examples of how this condition shows itself among addicts in recovery:

i)   Anger at recovery: Addicts who are “white-knuckling” their sobriety will be unable to resolve their anger issues. They will start to blame everyone for their misery in not being able to use/drink like others. Resentments will pile up finding fault in every individual or scenario in life that is remotely challenging. They will either persecute others or see themselves as victims, remembering every single offence to justify their anger. The only thing that they are blind towards is their own involvement in each resentment. At the very core of this anger is their inability to use/drink and get away with it scot-free unlike the days of old.

ii)   Impulsivity: “Dry drunks” are an impulsive lot. They do not think twice about doing things that may be of danger to themselves or others. They follow their own intuition and gut feelings around issues that need proper planning and support. For instance, the “dry drunk” who decides to go with friends for a pub lunch without having consulted his/her sponsor beforehand. Such slippery behaviors could result in a relapse if not properly monitored by a third party. Yet, for “dry drunks”, the right to own their own lives puts owning their recovery at risk!

iii)   Magical Thinking:  Addicts who are “dry drunk” may think that attempting an element of their previous lives may not be harmful seeing that they’ve had a considerable period of sobriety. For instance, the gambler who decides to put on a bet after twenty years of sobriety finds him/herself right back in the unmanageability of active addiction. It is “magical” to assume that the length of time spent sober makes one impervious to the dangers of addiction. If anything, relapses usually speed the process of making the addiction much more severe and acute – to an extent that some do not return from it!

iv)    Euphoric Recall: It simply means the “happy remembering” of active addiction. Addicts who are “dry drunk” will have a positive bias towards active addiction. They only remember how strong, smart, fun, and pleasurable active addiction made their lives. They refuse to recall the “bad times/dysphoria”. They are blind to all the legal, financial, health, and social problems, which arose out of addiction. This is why addicts need to keep a mental note of what can go wrong in active addiction to stave such recall from ruining the best lives they can live in recovery.

v)   Negativity: Dry drunks are going to be negative as long as they are in recovery, which is why “dry drunkenness” is a serious problem that inevitably leads to relapse. Such negativity could mean anything from being angry all the time and having a negative view on everything, to being unproductive. If recovery doesn’t replace the high of addiction, it is logical to assume that addicts will find something that will bring them back to it!

vi)   Isolation: Dry drunks love to exhibit difference as a means to isolate. They would say that they are different from others and are therefore in need of special treatment. They want people to either pity them or leave them alone, but never challenge them to live a better life than the one attempted. One way to ensure that nobody challenges them is to isolate from others and not be a part of life as it is. Hence, isolation is the hallmark of “dry drunk” behavior as it replicates the addictive personality to a tee.

Solutions to “Dry Drunkenness”

We are not in the business of giving you or your loved symptoms without having a bag of solutions to overcome them. That would be pointless and feed the argument that this is not such an important issue in early recovery. First of all, if you or your loved one portray such signs as listed above, see them as warning signs that a relapse is nearing and act contrarily to the above. For instance, if a bout of “euphoric recall” has consumed your moment in sobriety, watch the urge, accept it, and then do something constructive with it such as working out at the gym as an example. Below are solutions to fix this state of dissatisfied recovery known as “dry drunkenness”:

a)     Talking with others -  Having a good chat with someone else has the power to take whatever that is bothering you or your loved one away. The conversation could focus on the problem at hand and then shift to something pleasant. The whole idea is to pass the moment that is challenging, by focusing on an equally stimulating activity. 

b)     Meetings – Be it 12-steps, SMART recovery, or other support group meetings that focus on the daily trials of living sober; attending meetings is a good way to offload difficult emotions through sharing as well as listening to the hope of those who have gone through difficulties and have succeeded in recovery regardless.

c)     Therapies – In treatment, you or your loved one will be exposed to learning various therapies, which will help you or your loved one cope with life as it stands. Be it CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy), or ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy); application of these therapies to question and dig out the issues that are bothering you or your loved one in the here and now; will go a long way to ensuring the peace of mind necessary for continual growth.

d)     Living a structured and meaningful life – Addiction was an attempt to find meaning in chemicals or addictive behaviors. If sobriety is followed by apathy and entropy; then it is no wonder, one would seek addiction to re-liven life. However, if a life in recovery can be more meaningful and structured in such a way as to bring one closer to inherent values and goals; then, undoubtedly the meaningless life of active addiction will pale to what’s at hand! Living in structure also provides a platform for managing one’s days so as not to leave it idle.

e)     Take responsibility for one’s life – We don’t have the power to take responsibility for what happened during active addiction for we were in the grip of an uncontrollable illness. However, that does not justify our helplessness in recovery. In turn, we are responsible for our actions, behaviors, and attitudes in recovery just in the same way that it is the responsibility of every patient to take their medication. Taking responsibility removes us from being victims of fate. We can be assertive about our needs and wary of our wants and desires, whilst watching our attitudes and behaviors mindfully so that it does not compromise our recovery process. We may be powerless over everything that does not constitute ourselves, but we have tremendous power over ourselves.

Where Can I Start? 

If you or your loved one are experiencing a slip in the program of recovery, seek help with us at Solace Sabah. Even if you’ve been in treatment before, it may be due time to get a top-up or re-fill treatment to maintain certain loose knots in you or your loved one’s program. Here, we will teach and remind you or your loved one what is at stake and why change is needed at each turn or challenge that life throws in recovery. We will teach you or your loved one that sobriety and recovery are life-long processes, which need fine-tuning at times to work.

Dry-drunkenness is just a sign that one has resigned to a life unworthy of living; and the questions that needs asking herein – what is it about this new life that can be worth living? What opportunities do I have now that I’m sober? Who do I want to be? What is stopping me from reaching my true potential? What are the solutions to those blockages in life? And finally: am I living for life or is life living for me? If the answer to the last question is the former, then, you are assured of being on the way to a spectacular future!

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