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How to Avoid Becoming a Dry Drunk


In order for people to recover from an addiction they will first need to give up the substance abuse. It will not be possible for them to make any real progress until they are able to do this. Becoming physically sober is a vital first step, but it does not mean that the person is automatically going to live happily ever after. In order for this to happen, the person will need to do more than just giving up alcohol (or using drugs). To get the most from their recovery they will need to become emotionally sober. If they fail to do this, it could mean that they will develop dry drunk syndrome.

Dry Drunk Syndrome Explained

In Alcoholics Anonymous they will talk about people who haven’t had a drink in years, but who still have not managed to become sober. What is meant by this is that the individual is physically sober, but they continue to act as if they were still in the midst of addiction. This unfortunate person is often referred to as a dry drunk. This is the type of individual who does not enjoy being sober, and they will be failing to get the most out of this opportunity to be free. The dry drunk not only makes their own life miserable, but they can continue to cause much suffering for their loved ones – or indeed anyone who crosses their path. This person will be technically sober, but for all practical purposes they are still acting like they are in the middle of an addiction problem. This term is most frequently used when referring to people who are recovering from alcohol dependence, but it can be used to describe any ex substance abuse who is struggling with sobriety.

Symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome

The real danger with dry drunk syndrome is that people can slip into this without even realising it. It will usually be plainly obvious to those around the person that something is wrong, but they may feel unable to broach the subject. The symptoms of dry drunk syndrome vary a great deal, but they can include things like:

  • The person is likely to be pessimistic about the future. They may believe that no matter what they do, they will still find life a struggle.
  • They will usually treat their recovery as if they were serving a prison sentence. They will count the days but feel miserable because they have no release date to look forward to.
  • They may still be using other mind altering substances. For example, the person who has given up alcohol may still use cannabis because they never had a problem with it before. This is almost always a mistake because once a drug of choice is removed from the equation it is easy to replace it with a new drug of choice. Recovery usually means no longer using any mind altering substances, and if people do use them they are arguably not really sober at all.
  • The individual may turn to other maladaptive behaviours so they can avoid dealing with life. This could include things like workaholism or exercise addiction. These behaviours can be just as self destructive as substance abuse, and they can lead to a great deal of suffering.
  • The person dealing with dry drunk syndrome will usually be full of negativity. They may seem unable to find anything positive to say, and they are constantly discovering new reasons to be miserable. It can seem to outsiders that this person just does not want to be happy.
  • They may still be willing to do things that are unethical, and this causes misery for themselves and other people. This situation is sometimes referred to as the, ‘sober horse thief’. They are no longer drinking, but this does not stop them from breaking the law.
  • One of the most dangerous things about a dry drunk is that they can encourage other people to share their worldview. This person can be radioactive around those who are newly sober because they are such a bad example.
  • This person will have poor control over their emotions. They may like to make mountains out of molehills, and they will fly into a rage at the least provocation. Other people may find them hard to be around as a result of this.
  • This individual seems to be regularly in conflict with other people. This could include behaviours such as arguing with others or ignoring them (passive aggression).

How to Avoid Becoming a Dry Drunk

Why would anyone get sober to feel miserable? It just doesn’t make any sense. Dry drunk syndrome can be easily avoided so long as the person:

  • Makes a commitment to continued progress in recovery. It is usually when people become stuck that they turn into a dry drunk. The reason for why they become stuck is that they are faced with something in life that they refuse to deal with. Until the person becomes willing to deal with this obstacle in their path, they can remain as a dry drunk indefinitely.
  • The person in recovery needs to be on the lookout for pessimism and negativity in their own thinking. Everyone will have a bad day from time to time, but if the person notices a pattern of negativity it may be a sign that they have gone off course.
  • One of the benefits of using a recovery group is that it means that the individual will receive feedback on their behaviour. It is easy for the person to miss the signs that they are going off course, but other people will be able to raise the alert and help the individual get back on track.
  • It can be really helpful to maintain a daily journal where the individual jots down their thoughts. This provides a means for spotting negative thought patterns and other signs that the person is heading in the wrong direction.

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