Dry Drunk Syndrome: How to Deal With A Strange Behavior Patterns

What is Dry Drunk Syndrome?

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Dry drunk syndrome may sound like an oxymoron, but this syndrome is very real and is more common than one might think. The term “dry drunk” is used to describe a person who has stayed away from alcohol for some time but continues to behave as if he or she is still addicted. A person who has dry drunk syndrome hasn’t made behavioral or emotional changes or has started to regress to old ways of thinking. If not managed properly, Dry Drunk Syndrome can easily trigger a relapse. In some instances, untreated dry drunk syndrome can lead to suicide.

Whether a loved one has dry drunk syndrome, take heart in the fact that the condition can be cured. Developing dry drunk syndrome does not mean that anyone has lost their chance at sobriety. It only means that there is need to get back on the right track.

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What are the symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Dry drunk symptoms are largely behavioral. One might start to exhibit low tolerance for stress or behave impulsively, repeatedly engaging in unhealthy or risky behaviors. One might even start romanticizing alcohol or getting nostalgic about the “good old” drinking days. Such attitude may become constantly negative, and person will lose interest in previously cherished activities and become consumed with negative thoughts or self-pity. It may hard to recognize that anything needs to be changed. Such person just feels miserable in their skin.

What are the causes of Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Dry Drunk Syndrome is usually caused by no longer focusing on mental or emotional recovery. One may start to believe that since they are no longer an alcoholic, there isn’t anything else that needs to be done, but suddenly it can be found that one isn’t able to brush off negative thoughts. One may resist completing all the modules of the rehab program and stop regularly attending alcohol support group meetings.

How Can Dry Drunk Syndrome Be Avoided?

Dry Drunk Syndrome can be avoided by treating the core issues of alcoholism. Be aware of and on the lookout for the symptoms that indicate slipping back into old ways of thinking. If one hasn’t undergone behavioral therapy or counseling that targets people who abused alcohol, it is advised to enroll in such program. Join a support group of either 12-step or a non-12-step recovery and adjust the expectations of what “recovery” is.

Symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome

Learn to recognize the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome, don’t mistake them for moodiness or think that a loved one is just being difficult.

The following are the classic symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome:

Exhibiting low tolerance for stress: The individual has an abnormally low tolerance for stress. He or she flies off the handle or is upset at even the normal daily stressors that most other people can deal with without becoming agitated.

  • Displaying impulsivity: Low tolerance for stress can manifest as impatience and impulsive behavior. During his or her drinking days, a person was accustomed to instant gratification. Now when things don’t go the way he or she had planned or hoped for, stress kicks in. The person acts with little or no regard for the harm his or her behavior might unleash.
  • Engaging repeatedly in unhealthy or risky behaviors: The individual may have given up alcohol but still turns to other substances of abuse to cope with stress.
  • Romanticizing alcohol or getting nostalgic about the “good old” drinking days: Forgotten are the brushes with the law. Forgotten are the broken relationships. The person now only remembers what was good about his or her drinking days. In many cases, an addict in recovery who is feeling nostalgic about alcohol is just a step away from a relapse.
  • Showing a lack of interest in previously cherished activities: It is expected that with alcohol out of the way, the person in recovery will show increased enthusiasm for the activities he or she once used to enjoy. But people suffering from dry drunk syndrome lose interest in the activities they once used to enjoy. It seems as if they have lost the willingness or will to rebuild their lives.
  • Harboring negative thoughts: This is one of the classic symptoms of dry drunk syndrome. Dry drunks tend to harbor negative thoughts about themselves, the people around them, and the events unfolding in their lives. They think they are no good because they have failed to “recover.” They believe alcohol rehab programs are a waste of time because they have ended up being miserable. Negativity breeds stress that, in turn, magnifies the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome.
  • Displaying self-pity: The addict in recovery harbors feelings of discontentment with the way his or her life is shaping up. Self-pity is one of the most worrying symptoms of dry drunk syndrome. Feeling low and feeling helpless at being unable to chart the course of his or her life can drive a person to depression or worse, suicide.
  • Denying that life needs to change: A recovering addict is as prone to denying the futility of his or her current situation as a practicing addict. The person refuses to accept that he or she is stuck in recovery and needs to do some inner work to change status quo.

Causes of Dry Drunk Syndrome

Before one delves into the causes of Dry Drunk Syndrome, here’s what one should know about the nature of alcohol addiction:

  • Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are behavioral disorders.
  • In many cases, alcohol abuse stems from unhealthy coping mechanisms.
  • Behavioral modification is critical for sustained sobriety.
  • Quitting alcohol usually only resolves the chemical dependency issues.

Causes Of Dry Drunk Syndrome

When one understands the nature of alcohol addiction and how it affects the individual’s mind, it is easy to make sense why dry drunk syndrome develops.

The following are the most common causes of dry drunk syndrome:

  • Not being able to alter behavioral responses: For many addicts in recovery, drinking was a way of coping with the stresses in their lives. Alcohol used to relax and de-stress them. If these people do not learn alternative healthy coping mechanisms, they will naturally fall back to their old ways. They respond to stress by reaching out for a drink because that’s how they have “learned” to cope.
  • Not being able to brush off negative thoughts: Learning not to react impulsively to negative thoughts and feelings is an integral lesson of behavioral therapy. During these sessions, addicts in recovery are taught how to tide over negative thoughts and feelings that the stresses of daily living almost inevitably bring on. If they are not able to cope with negativity healthily, they feel compelled to reach out for a drink. But they know that they are not supposed to drink, so the stress magnifies.
  • Returning to a life filled with stressors: For many addicts in recovery, the expectation after going through an alcohol rehab program is that they will return to their earlier “normal” lives and function independently and efficiently without drinking. But the “normal” life they had once led is probably still filled with those stressors that had triggered their addiction in the first place. With their coping mechanism not in place, it is not hard to understand why some people start to romanticize their drinking days.
  • Not completing all the modules of the rehab program: Comprehensive rehab programs include intensive counseling and therapy sessions that help addicts in recovery alter attitudes, beliefs and behavioral responses. Not completing all the modules means that the person has had no chance of doing the inner work that would have prepared him or her to cope with the stressors that prompted alcohol dependency in the first place.
  • Not attending alcohol support group meetings: Attending alcohol support group meetings regularly even after leaving rehab has been proven to prolong sobriety for as long as 16 years. These meetings create opportunities for the recovering addict to interact with those who have traveled along the same path and learn tips and tricks for staying sober from them. The interactions provide the much-needed emotional support and guidance that go a long way in helping a person identify and alter unhealthy behavioral responses.
  • Harboring unrealistic assumptions about recovery: Sobriety is not just a destination to arrive at after quitting alcohol, going through detoxification, and attending a rehab program; sobriety is a lifelong journey. But not many people realize this. The belief is that once they have quit drinking or completed rehab there will be improvement in all the currencies of their lives. So when this doesn’t happen or happens too slowly, discouragement, frustration, and depression set in.

Avoiding Dry Drunk Syndrome

A “dry drunk” refers to a person—someone who once abused alcohol—who has not consumed alcohol for some time but still exhibits the mental and emotional symptoms of alcoholism.

Dry drunk syndrome is the result of one of the following two developments in an addict in recovery:

  • The person may have stopped using alcohol but has not worked on his or her mindset. His or her emotional landscape remains unchanged.
  • The person is abstaining from alcohol but is regressing in recovery. The typical behavior in such cases is missing or not attending support group meetings and not keeping in touch with his or her sponsor. Regression also means reverting to the old ways of thinking like, “One drink is okay.”

One can prevent it in the following ways:

  • Be aware of and on the lookout for the symptoms. The sooner one spots them, the earlier one can stem the downward spiral that can eventually trigger a relapse.
  • If one has not undergone behavioral therapy or counseling that targets people who abused alcohol, consider enrolling in a program.
  • Join a 12-step or a non-12-step program to learn tips and tricks from people who have overcome the obstacles that an ex-alcoholic may be facing now. Participation in these programs also ensures that it is necessary to have role models to look up and examples to follow.
  • Adjust the expectations of what “recovery” is. Remember that recovery is a commitment to life that one has to work at continuously. If there is a feeling of being stuck, it’s a signal that something is not going right. One has to correct the course.

Dry Drunk Syndrome is also known as “untreated alcoholism” in some 12-step circles. The moniker is not entirely unfounded. In a way, the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome mimic the emotional and mental states of an alcoholic. The cure is to take part in a behavioral counseling program and to reactivate the commitment to recovery.

When a person experiences dry drunk behavior patterns, the way to get back on track is to do what is supposed to be done. Only by asking for help and sticking close to others in recovery person can get fully back on the road to recovery.

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View Sources
  1. Gogek EB.The dry drunk syndrome: subtype of depression? The American Journal of Psychiatry. 1994ю 947-948. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1994-41265-001
  2. George Edwin Compton Jr. Quality of Life Factors among Recovering Alcoholics. Western Michigan University https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=2362&context=dissertationsScholarWorks at WMU. 2001.

Comments

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  • Mike Joseph Allen
    I’m 22 years sober on my own, but never worked on myself so the problems remained. They exacerbated once I retired but l couldn’t understand what was wrong. I’m now attending a 12 step program which is helping considerably. Good article. Thanks.
    • Donna Hewko
      Thanks Mike
  • Deepak Luthra
    Hi..I am 47 year old and quit drinking 1230 days before a ie on 26.10.2015 after abusing it for 22 years…I embraced soberity with my own will power and after going through the article I m in doubt whether I should have attended meetings…
    • Stephen
      Hi Deepak, I am going to my first meeting tomorrow after being sober for 28 yrs. I think my pride in the past stopped me from going. I initially had a spiritual experience and stopped drinking in 2 days. I had been drinking for 29 yrs and 20 of them heavily. But I still have an addictive nature and determined to change my life for good. I hope you find a resolution Deepak.regards,Steve.
    • Sara
      I can agree. I feel a lot of pressure from others to go but I also have a chronic illness and toxic living environment that I can’t get out of because finances. Sometime I’m just tired at night. There is maybe one or two meeting in the day where I live. Small town bs.
  • Patricia A Young
    How can I help my 50 year old daughter get professional help. She refuses to speak with me and hasn’t for almost 5 years. I think she’s a dry drunk.
  • Jerry
    I fit the dry drunk pattern 5 years sober attend 2 AA meeting per week I miss the stress relief and good times scared of relapse.. need help
    • Grace
      You are not on you own I have 6.5years up and attend 2meetingsper week but dealing with life can be a struggle have done the steps life has struggles which I would drink on .
  • Pierre
    I have 6 months sober and I’m going through a bad dry drunk and scared of relapse…can’t afford another one it may be my last…my last débauche almost took my life..HELP
    • J.crag
      I’m nearly 7 months sober. I’m definitely going through a dry drunk spell. It’s scary as i, like you, cannot go back to drinking, it will kill me. I’m going to get my license back on Thursday so I will be able to get to more meetings. I’m very low at the moment and can’t shake the heaviness, even though I do recognise that I’ve come so far from where I was. Let me know what you do Pierre, I wish you all the luck and strength you need.
      • Phil
        Honesty , openmindness, and willingness go through all of the 12 steps and have a spiritual awakening and serve others then sponsor people.
    • Heather
      Crazy that those of us with alcohol problems acknowledge and recognize it…..you just acknowledged 2 motivators for sobriety (can’t afford it and your safety), but yet we still struggle. I have almost a year and half sober and my biggest motivator is not wanting to start at day one again (mainly because of the vicious cycle that self-disappointment spirals me into). I also keep some sort of token from events that I now do sober – just as a reminder that it is possible to function without alcohol. Try to find something positive to remind you that your strength has gotten you to 6 months and use it to help you stay the course!
    • Fred Chopin
      I hope you got help …. Just recently start contributing to an online alcoholics anonymous group. A lot of them, are newly sober people. I’ve been sober for 16 years. I’m in my 60s.
      • Moe moe
        How can i find this information? My husband is in deep denial. I do not know how to help him. Im working on me so that i have options for moving on. The one i wish more people who have survived a love one in addiction is the financial impact of leaving. I want to leave but feel trapped because we’ve built a life i cant just up and leave without it hurting my kids education, and retirement. I want to share resources with him in hopes hell take advantage of them. He refuses to get help. Maybe an online group he’ll consider.
        • Julie
          Hi moe moe Have you tried alanon it’s a group for people effected by others that are alcoholic.Best wishes Julie
  • Leah
    Leah I’m 5 months sober and I’m working my program in DBT program individual therapy and go to 2 meeting a week read about dry drunk to see what it means I was curious cause I heard them term good to know I’m proud of myself and my recovery so far.
  • alison gibbons
    my hubby and I got sober together for 2years and also started relapsing all over the place as of late we have been sober for only 2 days .I have trouble sleeping am .exhausted all the time.our marriage has suffered as a result.the constant fights and not even rembering what happens takes a toll on both of us. however we are truly in love and push through it . together for 15 years I have a deep empathy for us addicts and have always believed the is underliying mental illness and trauma.my heart goes out to anyone suffering . A
  • Jay
    I read this article because I thought my husband might be a dry drunk. He has been sober on and off for about 10 years. While sobriety makes him more responsible, it also makes him emotionally fragile and volatile. It is often hard to be around him as most anything can set him off. Currently, his irritability is exacerbated by my teenage son’s proclivity to push his buttons. My husband quickly becomes reactive, defensive, then resorts to distancing himself, which seems to sadden my son. My household is a cycle of stress and depression. Will this ever change? My husband is getting emotional help but the mood in my house is so heavy I sometimes feel like I won’t survive it.
    • Bea
      Hi Jay,My heart goes to you. My mother married an alcoholic and lived with him for 40 years. He was dry for 20 years but his behaviour was the same. Then he got back into drinking, abusive etc. and she left him.After she left him, he sobered up and found himself another woman who would have none of the abuse. He was afraid of her and wanted the relationship so behaved well. So many wasted years for my mother in law.As a conclusion, we think that when we kiss the frog, the frog is going to change into a prince. In return, we change into frogs too. The idea is to like the frog sometimes, but not to jump into the pond with them! Good luck and I hope that you will make the right decision as it seems that your son suffers.
  • JE
    I am 51 year old man, just thrown out of my home on Easter. I have hope though now, because I believe I understand why. She is a dry drunk. She’s never reconciled her substance abuse. I have compassion, but am not returning to a home with such horrendous negative energy. I pray she goes to AA, for the sake of our family of 6.
  • B
    A Power Greater than Ourselves hears our prayers and knows our needs. May God bless us all!
  • Claudette
    Found this article extremely informative, expanded my knowledge to better understand WHAT AN WHY my significant other fights with himself to be the very best in life. Together we can now work on understanding triggers, of DDS an better understand the significance of 12 step program/Recovery. Many thx
  • Alice
    I’m an alcoholic in recovery, 4 years ago I went into rehab and did a 6 week program, I came out and have sustained sobriety , in the past 1 yr I’ve noticed my behaviour change dramatically and couldn’t understand or control the feelings I was having , it’s taken my partner of 19 years who has supported and loved me to reach the make or break point , I now know I’m suffering with dry drunk as this fits all my symptoms and will get the help I need x
  • B
    I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to identify my husbands erratic behavior as dry drunk syndrome. He just stormed out of the house, because I stubbed my toe so badly while. Making dinner I think I broke it! But he’s the one who got mad (likely bc of an inadequate response on his part and the associated guilt) ..he’s 4 years sober, but he doesn’t go to Meetings anymore. I’m glad I found this article, hopefully he’ll come home calmer and we can address the elephant in the room ..but I need to dig out my al Anon book first ❤️
    • E
      B-I’m in the same identical boat and wondering how much more I can take. He’s been in the program for 5 years with two relapses and attends meetings and counseling yet he is growing angrier and angrier and, in turn, scarier. The emotional abuse has become over the top in the past few weeks and I’m not sure how much more I will tolerate. I am ever grateful to the al-anon program for getting me this far and will continue to go to meetings.
  • James
    Hi I’m james ,just read this article too and I identify with the term dry drunk..I’ve only recently admitted my drink problem and I’ve been sober now for 5 weeks..I’m very confused at the moment and am thinking about going to A.A. meeting..I spoke with counselor for the first time in my life the other day and it wasn’t as painful as I thought so maybe I would feel the same about a meeting..
    • Julie
      Please try aa it transformed my life
  • Dennis
    Thank you for the article, I to went it alone after working the twelve steps being in recovery for 4 years. I have not taken in any mind altering substance in 20 years. I have all the symptoms of a dry drunk. I am back in the program of AA, and have started to make connections again. I would like to say that I hate having this problem and that is why I tried running from mit all these years, but found that it was kitching me fast. God Help Us All, -Dennis
  • Diana
    Hi there, Im have a finance of 9 years now who has been sober for 2 years, but you talk about him putting me through HELL…and I was told that its dry drunk he is going through..I don’t no what to do, other then go back to Al-Anon..to help my self..I have stuck it out with him this long, but Im not sure how much more I can take, I feel he is mentally abusing me..Im always crying cause of the mean hurtful things he says to me.. and him threatening me that he is going to move out..Im at the point then go..he uses money to control me cause he knows I can’t work right now cause I just had my leg amputated,,but I look at it this way, Ive survived so much in my life, that I will be fine..Can I have some input from others that are experiencing the thing as me, Thank you Diana
  • Dawn
    Diana definitely get back to AL Anon for support in this difficult time. I’m sorry that you had your leg amputated, that is life changing. If your leg was removed for a disease related reason (say diabetes as an example) then those disease groups also offer support groups you could use for support. Finally we all have to remember that our alcoholics may be dry drunks and need to get back into recovery support, BUT, they are humans and can also be assholes at their core without the booze cover. That no one has to put up with, and even you can slowly make plans to move on. First get yourself support. Blessings to you.
  • Jenny
    Very helpful in confirming my opinion about a family member. Such a complex and tricky disease especially when the perso you love an adult child is in denial and their life constantly unravels.
  • Oregon Girl
    I believe my husband is a dry drunk. He’s into smoking pot knowing how much I hate it, how upset it makes and hides it and lies to me about it. It’s a huge issue between us. He says it helps him relax. He also has boundary issues regarding women. He’s been seeing a massage therapist at a chain massage company, but I just found out that he’s also gone to her home for massages. He hid it from me knowing I wouldn’T approve. I asked him to stop but he doesn’t think there is an issue. He told me he kept it from me because he knew it would upset me. He swears up & down there is no sexual relations going on, because he “ can’t get it up for you (me) or anyone.” He doesn’t understand why I don’t approve. He finally said he would stop going to her place, but has made appointments at her work to continue having her do his massages. I think I finally got my point across to him why I don’t want him using her anymore & cancelled his upcoming appointments. His constant lying & hiding things from me triggers my trust issues with him from the past. We have been married for 33 yrs , he’s been sober 17 of those yrs. He’s professional & I have been a stay at home mom until they all flew the coop. I have no professional skills to get a job & depend solely on his large professional income. I’m at a loss!! HELP!! I love him & don’t want to leave him, but I’m at my wits end.
    • Mel
      Oregon Girl, You should be very concerned about your husband’s interest in the other woman. Anything that has to be kept secret in a relationship interferes with that relationship. It even sounds to me that your husband may be a sex addict. Are there any S-Anon or COSA meetings in your area? I found out 18 months ago that my husband is a sex/relationship/love addict, and he is now attending meetings. I also have guilt in the downfall of our relationship, because I am a recovering alcoholic with 16 years of sobriety, but have been a dry drunk that entire time; I never fully worked the 12 steps, but after reading this article, I will definitely start going back to AA meetings. I hope it is not too late for us.
  • D n Mehta vikalp
    Thanks a lots after 21 months recovery have fear of relapse it’s helpful
  • MJ Myers
    I had never heard of this term/syndrome before this morning. I looked into it and it accurately describes what I’ve been going through. Today I have been sober for 8 months and quit cold turkey without meetings, steps, counseling, or therapy. I have been experiencing a very steep decline and been so afraid of what will become of it. This has been so informative and I appreciate it. Now that I have a term for what might be wrong, I can address it.
  • Gene Kristoff
    Very good article. I exhibit much of these behaviors, dry drunk. I am starting with my sponsor, at the beginning of the twelve step process of AA. I’ve been in AA for about 6 and a half years, having never worked the program properly; Like doing working the steps from one through twelve, in order. I’ve done my step 4, and 10. I feel that the steps are put in order for a reason, and need to be followed properly. I thank God that I’m waking up to the fact that I’m a dry drunk, who is in need of help. I am willing to do what it takes to recover properly. I’m commiting to follow AA and follow what my sponsor says.
  • Anenette Appel
    This article opens up a door to possibly understanding my ex fiances behavior. I’m not sure if he falls under the same category though. he is a recovering alcoholic, however there wasn’t any chemical addiction. He would Binge drink once or twice a month, and become a completely different abusive person. he was sober for 2 years before he fell off the wagon again. my concern during the “sober” two years though was that he would continue to act abusive sometimes. It was as if he was drunk. late at night i’ll get a call, he’d be slurring his words, acting exactly like he used to when he was drunk. I could never figure out how it was possible. anyone who spoke to him would have agreed that he was drunk, This happened in my presence as well. where i knew for a fact he did not have anything to drink, because i don’t keep liquor at my place, and he would work himself into a state about nonsense and soon become as erratic and crazy as when he used to drink. He refused to get help from counselors or therapists. which is a problem because he started binge drinking as a coping mechanism, he has some things in his past that left psychological scars, and he never dealt with it.