Have you ever heard the terms, “dry drunk” or “white-knuckling” it, in relation to sobriety? The title of this post suggests we’ll be discussing alcoholism specifically, but it could easily be swapped out for, “Cocaine is but a symptom of addiction.” Or, “excessive sexual activity is but a symptom of sex addiction,” or “gambling is but a symptom of gambling addiction.” You get the idea. 

The point is that when you get sober, regardless of what your substance or compulsion of choice is, it’s almost guaranteed your alcoholism or addiction will manifest itself in other ways. This is, of course, if you’re a true-blue addict or alcoholic. If you’re just a heavy drinker or a recreational drug user with no actual history of drug or alcohol abuse, then none of this will apply. 

Having said this, it’s important for most recovering addicts and alcoholics to work some type of recovery program. The reason is that things can get ugly if they don’t. In fact, they probably will get ugly. And, the uglier things get, the more likely a relapse is to occur—and relapses for addicts and alcoholics are generally not very pretty. 

If you or someone you love is white-knuckling it in your sobriety, here are some telltale signs that you or your loved one is beginning to spiral:

Life on life’s terms is unmanageable

No one enjoys setbacks in life. We get sick, we lose loved ones, we lose jobs, or maybe we just have a disproportionate amount of car trouble. Not to minimize any of these things — some of them can be downright devastating. But for addicts and alcoholics who are white-knuckling our sobriety, these types of situations can often seem unbearable. We have a tendency to catastrophize and if we don’t work a program, we can find that our life becomes excessively problematic. It’s as if our alcoholism or addiction has a mind of its own. It’s searching for reasons for us to get drunk or high. 


Generally speaking, addicts and alcoholics feel like they don’t fit in. This is one of the many reasons why we start drinking or using in the first place. Ultimately, the booze and the drugs become coping mechanisms and, often, the only ways we feel comfortable in social situations. By taking away the substances and not replacing them with something else (i.e., a good recovery program, often guided by spiritual principles), we’ll often turn to isolation. It’s the ultimate coping mechanism to avoid people altogether. Unfortunately, it’s not a very sustainable one.

Even if we’re able to get by without engaging with other humans for a little while, we’ll probably get depressed. And, guess what happens then? We call our drug dealer or Postmates to have them bring around the powder or the vino. If you think these types of slippery slopes are an exaggeration, try spending a few weeks going to AA meetings and listening to the stories of the folks who’ve relapsed. No, this isn’t a sneaky attempt to get you to a meeting. But, hey, even if it is, that ain’t a bad thing.


Oh, the lies. Yes, we’re a deceitful bunch. In fact, we tend to run full speed away from all truth when we’re in active addiction or alcoholism. And if you think that giving up just the drugs and the drinking will stop this nonsense, well, you’re probably wrong. The first person we’ve likely been lying to throughout our drinking or using careers is ourselves. We lie about our behavior, we lie about how we feel, we lie about how serious our drinking or using is, we cheat on our significant others and lie to ourselves about why, and the list goes on.

Take away the drugs and the alcohol and we generally still don’t know who on earth we are. At least when we were high or drunk, we could anesthetize ourselves from the guilt of living out our lies. Just about any kind of recovery program is going to ask us to take a good, hard look at ourselves, and for many sober addicts, this step is too challenging. And, so, the white-knuckling begins. And the lies continue. Unfortunately, this leads to relapse in the end all too often. 

An inflated sense of self or ego

In a sense, the alcoholic or addict’s inflated sense of ego is associated with all of the lying. After years and years of drinking, drugging, and lying to ourselves about who we really are, we might start to believe our own lies. And, for many of us, this involves a false sense of pride regarding things like our accomplishments in life. Because, deep down, we actually feel like scumbags. But, we’ve often crafted these personas in order to feel better about ourselves, so that we present well to the outside world.

Social media certainly doesn’t help — you might be surprised how often people who are living downright lies can still believe that the likes they get online are proportionate to their successes. Meanwhile, their pocketbooks, their real-life relationships, and their family lives tell a completely different story altogether. Nevertheless, the delusions can often run so deep that without a program of recovery and/or a connection with something greater than themselves (i.e., a higher power), the ego prevails. This is extremely dangerous for an addict or an alcoholic because it means their foundation is really shaky. And, if wobbled, it could lead to a really dark place, including a relapse, suicidal ideation, or worse. 

A deflated sense of self or ego

Once again, this aligns with the above. It’s just the flip side of the coin. Nevertheless, both generally stem from feelings of unworthiness. As addicts and alcoholics, it’s just as common for us to put ourselves down as it is for us to inflate our image and craft grandiose personas. Our feelings of unworthiness can be caused by any number of things, whether from an insecure attachment to a primary caregiver, childhood abuse, or some other trauma. Or, it can simply stem from the alcoholism or addiction itself. Whatever the reason, once the drugs and alcohol are removed, we’ll come face to face with our deflated egos.

If we don’t have some type of a recovery program in place or a really good therapist to help us work through this stuff, we’re going to have a really hard time. This also goes back to dealing with life on life’s terms — take away that false sense of security that we got from drugs or booze and life can quickly become too much to handle. And, of course, this is problematic. It can have a profoundly negative impact on our work, our relationships, and our day-to-day tasks. 

Process addictions

Process addictions (sometimes called “behavioral addictions”) are compulsions to repeatedly engage in unhealthy behaviors despite their negative consequences. This includes things like sex and love addiction, gambling addiction, shopping addiction, and food addiction among others. There are a variety of factors that determine whether or not these behaviors can be constituted as process addictions and these factors are different for everyone. But, a common attribute is that they tend to cause serious destruction in the addict’s life, such as marital problems, financial ruin, obesity, and so on.

They also may cause a spike in the brain’s pleasure chemicals for the addict who’s engaging in them, which can make these behaviors very hard to give up without help. People often describe alcohol or addiction recovery as being like a game of Whack-a-Mole where, in essence, you “whack” one addiction, and a different one crops up. And this can lead to a seriously mad loop of process addictions, particularly for those of us who have no recovery program. 


This is not an exhaustive list of telltale signs someone is spiraling out while white-knuckling their sobriety, but it includes some of the most commonly experienced ones. It also illustrates the multitude of reasons and ways that alcohol is but a symptom of alcoholism and drugs are but a symptom of addiction. Furthermore, it helps drive home the reasons why it’s so important for the vast majority of sober addicts or alcoholics to plug into a recovery program before things get out of hand. 

Kembali Recovery Center can help

If you or someone you love is struggling to get or stay sober, contact us today to speak with one of our counselors and learn more about our programs. You never have to do this alone. 

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