What the Heck is a Dry Drunk?

You’ve been around the recovery community for a while. Perhaps you’re new to a twelve step program, you’ve flirted with the idea of getting sober, or maybe you have a friend or family member who’s sober. You’ve also heard the term “dry drunk” getting tossed around here and there, but what the heck does it mean?

“Dry Drunk” is a slang term and it was originally coined by the creators of Alcoholics Anonymous.

For all intents and purposes, however, let’s just call the dry drunk a sober alcoholic who still exhibits alcoholic behavior. In other words, your dry drunk uncle, friend, cousin, mother, brother, father, or whomever (maybe it’s you) has given up booze, but is still acting in the same dysfunctional way as he, she, or you did prior to getting sober.

Most alcoholics have issues dealing with life on life’s terms, which is one of the many reasons why we pick up the bottle in the first place. The same reaction to life applies to addicts of any variety, really, but for our purposes, we’ll stick with the alcoholic.

Just because you give up your substance of choice when you get sober, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your former coping strategies have evaporated into thin air. Giving up alcohol (or drugs, etc.) is really only the first step on the path to recovery. For most people, there’s a lot of self-work that needs to be done in order to avoid slipping back into the behaviors that led to the drinking and using in the first place. And maintaining that recovery work is generally a lifelong process for folks who wish to have any long-term success. Some people choose to enter into a quality drug and alcohol rehab program for their first thirty days of sobriety. Aftercare is really important post-rehab and, moving forward, one of the most proven effective ways around to stay sober for the long term is through a twelve step program.  At the end of the day, however, the method is up to the addict, but if there’s no method at all? Well, things could start to get kinda ugly.

Many people who decide to white knuckle it and get sober without any type of program will very likely exhibit or engage in one or many of the following:

  • Loneliness and isolation: A former drinker who turned to alcohol for some liquid courage in order to feel comfortable in social situations may now be frightened by the prospect of leaving the house. This is just one example. There are a variety of reasons why a sober alcoholic with no program might isolate.
  • A false sense of pride (overconfidence): addicts often want to do things their own way and frequently refuse help from others. This may stem from childhood trauma, past rejections, or any number of things. Once dry, this false sense of pride may become amplified and lead to more problems down the road, including difficulties maintaining good relations at work and problems in personal relationships.
  • Bad or unethical behavior: just because an alcoholic stops drinking doesn’t mean that the other bad habits or behaviors will go away by themselves. He or she might still be a thief, or a cheat, or maybe will just transfer their addiction. For example, lots of alcoholics give up alcohol only to find themselves turning to things like overeating, overspending, or acting out sexually in a way that’s unhealthy, among other things.
  • Romancing the drink: Sober alcoholics often reminisce about the perceived “good ole days” after they’ve given up drinking. Things like fun nights out at the pub with the guys, late night dance parties, and epic concerts that doubled as drunk fests. These “romancers” typically fail to remember the disastrous chain of events that usually followed their binges. Unfortunately, this type of thinking frequently leads the alcoholic right back to drinking.
  • Self-pity: Maybe recovery doesn’t feel as good as the alcoholic thought it would feel, or maybe he or she has always felt self-pity on some level. Without getting to the root cause of the drinking, though, that self-pitying feeling probably isn’t going anywhere.

Of course these are just a handful of dry drunk scenarios or characteristics, and each individual case is going to be different. Nevertheless, if the underlying cause of our addiction isn’t addressed, then the bad behaviors and old methods of coping with life on life’s terms will probably stick around. This makes most dry drunks very unpleasant to be around, and it also makes them loose cannons–loose cannons that are likely to pick up the bottle again. There will always be exceptions to this rule as all addicts are not created equal. The vast majority, however, are going to come face-to-face with some real life problems if they try to get sober without any type of program.

Do you think you might be a dry drunk or do you know someone who’s given up a substance or object of addiction, but now exhibits some of the characteristics listed? Kembali Recovery Center is here to help. Please contact us to learn more about our four week program.  Our next intake is right around the corner.

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