What is a Dry Drunk and Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Dry Drunk Syndrome

When someone enters treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction, or attempts to tackle it on their own, the goal is simple: stop drinking or using drugs.

This is the first step in recovery but it is not ALL there is to recovery. What some people do not realise is that once a person stops drinking or using, their life does not automatically become miraculously better. The road to sustained recovery is often bumpy, and one issue that may arise is known as dry drunk syndrome.

dry drunk syndrome

Where the Term Originated

The term dry drunk syndrome was originally used by the creators of the 12-Step program, Alcoholics Anonymous. Author R.J. Solberg defined the term in his 1970 book, The Dry Drunk Syndrome, as “the presence of actions and attitudes that characterized the alcoholic prior to recovery.”

Someone struggling with dry drunk syndrome may still maintain strained relationships with their loved ones. They may still suffer from unhealthy habits, both internally and externally. In short, while they may have quit drinking, the individual has yet to deal with the emotional baggage that led them to alcohol in the first place.

If you have heard that alcoholism or addiction is not the problem but merely a symptom, then the term dry drunk is easier to understand. By stopping using or drinking you have ended the symptom only, and not the initial problem that was leading to it. A dry drunk is therefore someone who is still suffering from the initial problem that led them to drink or use in the first place. Dry drunks are usually people who are in a lot of pain, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and/or physically.

dry drunk syndrome

Who Becomes a Dry Drunk?

It is important to recognize that dry drunk syndrome is a legitimate psychological phenomenon that can happen to anyone who is struggling with an addiction. It is not a sign of some innate failing within the individual.

Dry drunk syndrome is however, more common among individuals who quit their addiction on their own, as they do not have a professional support team to guide them through this difficult change in their life. Those who undergo professional treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction are less likely to develop the issue. This is why our proven program at The Lighthouse Bali is fully comprehensive and not only addresses drinking and using, but also mind, body and spirit, allowing you to come to terms with the underlying problems and not only the symptoms.

dry drunk signs

Signs and Symptoms

There are a few tell-tale signs that indicate a person is struggling with dry drunk syndrome. Psychology Today outlines these signs as:

  • Resentment toward friends or family
  • Anger and negativity surrounding recovery
  • Depression, anxiety, and fear of relapse
  • Jealousy of friends who are not struggling with addiction
  • Romanticizing their drinking days
  • Being self-obsessed
  • Replacing the addiction with a new vice (e.g., sex, food, internet use etc)

Dry drunk syndrome operates almost exclusively within a person’s mind. In fact, psychologists since 1955 have maintained that working on one’s “inner life” is the key to overcoming the dry drunk mentality.

Dry drunk syndrome can be overcome; it simply requires a willingness to uncover the root of one’s addiction. The Lighthouse Bali’s program of recovery includes a spectrum of professional therapy modalities combined with holistic wellness modules and optional 12-step group attendance, which we highly encourage.

The Psychology Behind Dry Drunk Syndrome

Many addictions arise from a need for a coping mechanism. When someone stops drinking or using, their loved ones often hope that without drugs or alcohol in the person’s life, everything will be okay; however, the reality is that someone struggling with an addiction did not feel “okay” in the first place. When their security blanket (the substance of choice) is taken away, things may get worse before they start to get better.

People dealing with dry drunk syndrome can feel overwhelmed, as though they are white-knuckling (another term used in recovery circles) through life without their substance of choice. Recovery is always a deeply personal, and sometimes painful process, as individuals work to battle their inner demons and ultimately attain a level of self-awareness they did not have before.

If the person did not have a coping mechanism before they began drinking or using, they will not have one after they stop. To develop a coping mechanism takes time, patience and professional treatment. If they remain unable to cope for any period, the likelihood is that they will relapse, begin to drink or use again, or find another mechanism which could be sex, overspending, overeating, gambling or any other behaviour that acts as a release.

preventing dry drunk

Preventing Dry Drunk Syndrome

In most medical cases, prevention is better than cure, and this also applies to dry drunk syndrome. By seeking professional addiction and recovery treatment, an individual will be better prepared for life without an active addiction than someone who attempts to stop on their own.

In a 2016 article in the Australian journal “Addiction Research and Theory”, recovery was described as, “A personal journey of socially negotiated identity transition that occurs through changes in social networks and related meaningful activities.”

What does this mean? Quite simply that a person in recovery is not merely saying “no” to a substance. They are changing their very identity – a scary prospect for anyone to cope with – and they are doing it without the crutch of substance use that they have come to know so intimately. This alone can explain why a person may develop dry drunk syndrome.

Are You or a Loved One Suffering Dry Drunk Syndrome?

If you notice a loved one exhibiting signs of dry drunk syndrome, your first responsibility is to encourage them to continue treatment. Someone struggling with dry drunk syndrome may become discouraged with what they perceive as a failed effort at sobriety so this needs to be approached sensitively. If they feel that they have failed at sobriety they are more likely to decrease their treatment efforts or even quit altogether. This course of action can make an individual’s sobriety more tenuous, ultimately undoing all the hard work done up until that point.

One way to combat dry drunk syndrome is to direct yourself or your loved one toward a healthier, more stimulating behavior. Most people fighting dry drunk syndrome also suffer from depressive tendencies, and they have a difficult time finding activities they enjoy. You can help them rediscover old hobbies they once loved or introduce them to new experiences. A few examples include:

  • Stimulate intellect by taking a class.
  • Explore spiritual teachings and practices.
  • Learn a new hobby.
  • Take time to exercise.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Explore treatment through rehab programs and therapy including online options.

The primary role of a friend or family member to a person in recovery is to provide support and reflect the positivity one can find in a life free from addiction. This is especially important when an individual is dealing with dry drunk syndrome. If you continue to engage with and support your loved one throughout this difficult time, they may find it easier to push on and continue the tough yet rewarding work of recovery.

Living with dry drunk syndrome can be incredibly difficult for both the person struggling with it and their family. However, it is important to remember that, just like any other psychological phenomenon, it can be overcome with the right assistance and support.


One-on-One Treatment Options

Some individuals prefer to work on their addiction privately in individual therapy. At The Lighthouse Bali, all of our programs are one-on-one, including our residential, outpatient, and online options. One-on-one meetings with a professional therapist provide a safe space to discuss and reflect upon grievances and frustrations, and gain insight into the overall recovery process. This time can also be a great place for reflection and analysis of one’s addiction – a discussion that can eventually uncover the root causes of the struggle and provide the individual with healthier coping mechanisms.

Reaching Out

The Lighthouse Bali’s proven combination of an initial Primary Inpatient Program  followed by Outpatient Care and Ongoing Therapy has helped alcohol and drug addicts from around the world get their lives back on track. Through individually tailored treatment, professional therapy, medically assisted detox (if required), and compassionate support, you will be given the tools you need to ensure the best possible chances for long term recovery.

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, we urge you to reach out and contact us in confidence. Our private programs are tailor-made to suit individual needs and our masters and doctorate level clinical staff have extensive experience in the field of addiction.

If you are not currently in Bali but would like to begin a recovery program immediately, contact us as we will be able to arrange a VISA for entry into Indonesia.

We also have online recovery options available which can be taken should you not wish to travel.

To talk to one of our team members, contact us on WhatsApp or by Phone. Alternatively, send us an email and we will either answer your questions in writing or call you back, according to your preference. 

Contact Us.

We understand how difficult it can be to reach out for help but it is the first step towards recovery and a happier, healthier way of living.

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