Are You Dealing With Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Getting sober involves a lot more than putting down the alcohol and drugs and stepping away. Recovery involves a lot of soul-searching, emotional work, introspection, and an entire perspective shift. Numbing oneself with substances stunts emotional growth and causes our moral compass to malfunction. Removing chemicals from the body is certainly the first step but it doesn’t fix years of maladjustment to life.

To be truly healthy and whole in sobriety, addicts and alcoholics need long-term therapy and support, and a willingness to change behavior and defective thinking patterns. Some people don’t make these vital changes, and as a result, end up sober and miserable. That’s why some people with decades of clean time are still angry, resentful, depressed, and hurting. If you are sober and you’re still miserable, you may be suffering from the condition known in recovery circles as “dry drunk syndrome.”

What is Dry Drunk Syndrome?

People use alcohol or drugs addictively for many reasons- genetic predisposition to substance dependence, trauma, social conditioning or home environment, inability to cope with life circumstances, or negative core beliefs about themselves or their lives. For many people who suffer from addiction, drugs and alcohol are temporary “solutions” to these problems, before they become bigger problems themselves.

For that reason, simply quitting substances without changing one’s lifestyle or other behaviors and thought processes simply isn’t enough. Taking away the substance doesn’t fix the problem that the addict or alcoholic was trying to solve through the use of the substance in the first place. When someone doesn’t replace their addiction with a healthy pattern of living or a new solution to dealing with life, they can end up feeling empty, discontent, and full of anguish. This is what’s referred to as “dry drunk syndrome.” It’s an addict or an alcoholic with no drugs or alcohol, and also no solution.

Recovery from addiction isn’t just the absence of substances, but rather a way of life. When using and drinking are someone’s entire way of life, they will absolutely need a new lifestyle to replace that one when they decide to get sober. Otherwise, the pain, fear, and emptiness that prompted the abuse of drugs and alcohol returns, and the individual ends up suffering through abstinence or returning to their addiction.

How Do I Know if I’m a Dry Drunk?

Like any affliction, dry drunk syndrome affects individuals in different ways, and it can be avoided and corrected through different methods based on the person’s goals, a threshold for emotional pain, and their own particular definition of fulfillment. The risk factors for developing dry drunk syndrome include social isolation, lack of emotional support, disengagement from recovery programs (such as twelve-step fellowships or recommended treatment aftercare programs like IOP), being uninvolved in therapy, not treating a co-occurring disorder, lack of healthy coping skills, unaddressed resentments or anger, staying in a toxic relationship or home environment, being dishonest about cravings or feelings, and engaging in outside behavioral addiction such as compulsive gambling or shopping. All of these factors can cause a sober person to fail to address their core issues or the emptiness that fuels and results from active addiction.

Someone who is suffering from dry drunk syndrome may:

  • Hold onto resentments or anger
  • Feel superior to others or struggle with ego; conversely, they may have feelings of inferiority or not being good enough
  • Regularly compare themselves and their recovery to others
  • Lash out emotionally, display angry outbursts or experience mood swings that are unrelated to a mood disorder
  • Engage in compulsive behaviors or non-substance-related addictions, like sex addiction, gambling addiction, or binge-eating
  • Become emotionally or physically abusive to family, friends, or those around them
  • Lie or manipulate
  • Feel empty or unfulfilled
  • Isolate themselves from family or friends
  • Engage in high-risk behavior
  • Deny, minimize, or rationalize their addiction
  • Fantasize about drinking or using drugs, or experience a return of the obsession to use substances
  • Display disproportionate reactions to life events, such as overreacting to minor inconveniences, or not experiencing any emotional reaction to intense experiences
  • Reminisce on the “good times” of their drug use or drinking and forget about the tragic consequences of their addiction
  • Stop regularly attending 12 step meetings, support groups, therapy, doctor appointments, or other recommended recovery activities
  • Struggle to relate to others in recovery
  • Develop destructive coping mechanisms like self-harm
  • Fail to treat mental illnesses, like eating disorders, which can be physically and emotionally harmful
  • Refuse to admit to or recognize their behavior and the impact it has on themselves, their family, and their relationships

Is Mental Illness Involved?

It is impossible to discuss dry drunk syndrome without discussing mental health. If you are a dry drunk, chances are you also struggle with depression, anxiety, or some other form of mental illness. In fact, from what we know regarding the causes of dry drunk syndrome, you most likely dealt with mental illness before your addiction. Mental illness could have even been the cause of your dry drunk syndrome. There is an unfortunate connection between mental illness and addiction. Below you will find some of the symptoms of depression.

  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Guilt
  • Feelings of anxiety, mood swings, or sadness.
  • Insomnia, sleeplessness, restless.
  • Excessive hunger, fatigue, loss of appetite.
  • Lack of concentration, slowness in cognitive ability, thoughts of suicide ideation.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Repeatedly going over thoughts.

If you have noticed, many of these symptoms may be similar to that of being dry drunk. Dry drunkenness is connected to mental illness. This is why it is important to treat the whole person. In the next section, we will discuss co-occurring disorders and why they are important to understand.

What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

When two disorders occur at the same time (such as a mental illness and an addiction) they can intertwine to create a bigger, more intense disorder. This is called a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis. When this happens there is no longer simply two disorders running side by side, they “combine” and strengthen one another.

It is uncertain whether one causes the other, however, both can contribute to the origination, and maintenance of the other disorder. For example, depression can cause feelings of loneliness or isolation. Symptoms of addiction are isolation and self-medicating. This is just one way a co-occurring disorder can form. However, there are many various ways that one of these illnesses can lead to another.

Why are Co-Occurring Disorders Important?

As previously stated, these are not two separate disorders, they are connected. You would not treat half a disease or half the problems associated with cancer. Why then, do we only treat half of the dual diagnosis? Many in the medical field are becoming increasingly aware that not only is it more logical to treat co-occurring disorders; it is more successful.

We at the Discovery Institute want to treat the whole person. This means if we treat you for addiction, we treat your mental state too. Perhaps, that is the reason you are struggling with dry drunk disorder. You treated your addiction but not the mental illness. Well, it is never too late. You may be dismayed to find there is something else to deal with, but at least you have a start! We at the Discovery Institute want to help you learn how to cope with your whole life, not merely part of it.

How to Avoid Dry Drunk Syndrome

If you are suffering from the dry drunk syndrome, the first step is the same as it is in recovery: recognizing and admitting it. Once the individual identifies the problem, they can seek support and help from those around them. Returning to recovery support groups and twelve-step fellowships can be helpful, re-committing to a recovery program that involves a connection with other sober people and healthy routines, or seeking therapy and professional care can all help reverse the symptoms of the dry drunk syndrome and help the addict/alcoholic to truly recover.

If you are sober and feeling fulfilled and happy, preventing dry drunk syndrome involves continuing to engage in a daily routine of recovery. Attending twelve-step meetings and working with a sponsor, connecting with friends and sober supports, being honest about your emotions and struggles, following your treatment aftercare plan (by attending therapy or a recommended outpatient program), complying with medication regimens, exploring new hobbies and having fun, and utilizing healthy coping mechanisms (such as meditation) can all prevent the addict or alcoholic from becoming a dry drunk.

Alongside this, it is important not to forget the mental health side. If you have not already gotten treatment for mental health, it is time to seek out a therapist. There is a stigma around therapy that should be torn down, engaging in counseling should be done by all people who want to grow, mental illness is no different. Finding a counselor who works for you is a perfect start, in fact, it would be even better to have that form of counseling connected to treatment. 

Holistic Care Can Help, Too

Another thing to think about is holistic care. This is beneficial, both for those struggling with mental illness, and those who are in addiction recovery. Holistic care focuses on the natural part of life and healing the whole self. There is certainly a benefit in becoming your truest self, coming to know yourself more, and being more aware of the present moment. A lot of holistic care involved in meditation yoga, nature walks, and so on.

While some are averse to this, in a culture that attempts to disconnect electronically and through substances, being present and connected to life can be extremely healing. This is especially true for those who struggle with depression. Nature has been proven to increase levels of dopamine in our brains. Meditation also has been shown to be extremely beneficial. 

Finally, consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is the practice of tracing our thought patterns. We may not know it, but our brains are very malleable. The goal of CBT is to trace our thought patterns and identify our unhealthy coping mechanisms. Once this is done, we work on changing our train of thought and turn to good coping mechanisms. Please consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a way to treat your Dual Diagnosis.

Helping Loved Ones

In some cases, we may know someone who was struggling with addiction and sought recovery. However, they now seem to be dealing with dry drunk syndrome. If you think this is a possibility, perhaps it is time to stage an intervention. We at the Discovery Institute want to help you be properly equipped to help your loved one. That is why we have compiled an intervention guide for you to use. Please reach out and examine that if you have any questions. 

Another way you can help a loved one would be to encourage them to seek family therapy. Did you know that many are referring to addiction as a family disease? This is because addiction affects the whole family, never the individual. It also changes the way we cope. It can be confusing to figure out how to help our loved ones. This may result in us seeking to cope through unhealthy means. If you or a loved one are struggling with dry drunk disorder, please consider helping the entire family. Just like we want to treat the whole disease, we want to treat the whole family. 

Getting Help

It is not too late to get help. You may think that there is no point, or even that you have already sought out treatment. However, recovery is a lifelong journey with the highs and lows. We want to celebrate with you in the highs, and be there for you in the lows. In order to be sober and truly experience recovery, many addicts and alcoholics need treatment. If you want to make a start on a new life, our expert treatment team can help. Call us today at (844) 433-1101. You owe it to yourself to take back your future. Please reach out to us; your new life is only a call away.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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