Dry Drunk Syndrome

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Dry drunk syndrome is a term that refers to someone who is not drinking or using drugs but they have already relapsed emotionally.

If someone is a “dry drunk” it basically refers to the fact that they are not actively working on their recovery, and therefore they might just as well be drinking – although they have not technically done so yet.

So basically:

Dry drunk = relapse mode.

It is often characterized as being “restless, irritable, and discontent.” Anyone who is in this state of mind is headed for trouble unless they can somehow pull themselves out of it before they pick up a drink.

Identifying dry drunk syndrome

It all starts with self awareness. This is critical because if you simply storm through your life and your recovery without paying close attention to your own emotional state then chances are good that you will at some point be knocked off balance and thus risk relapse. So we have to pay attention to our own emotional state and occasionally take action to correct it.

How quickly do we always recognize when we are getting restless, irritable, and discontent? You might think that we can identify these states instantly but they can creep up on us sometimes. Therefore we must make a conscious decision to recognize these emotional states and “catch ourselves” when we think we are going there. Now there are some things you can do once you realize you are sliding into this emotional state but if you never even realize it in the first place then these things will do you no good.

So you have to be aware of when things start sliding out of control. How can you practice this? By simply paying attention. Become aware of it and watch it happen in yourself. Notice it. This is a huge part of the solution and in fact it is almost the entire solution. Simply become more self aware and tune in to your own emotional state. Recognize where you are at throughout the day.

Strategies for overcoming dry drunk syndrome

1) Self awareness - Like I mentioned above, simply increasing your self awareness is a huge part of this process and can work wonders. The more mindful you can become of your own emotional state, the more protected you will become against becoming overly off balance.

2) Networking - If you are restless, irritable, and discontent, find someone who is even worse off than you are and then help them through it. This might sound ridiculous but it absolutely works. One of the best ways to do this is to regularly work with newcomers in recovery. When we reach out and help others we actually help ourselves. When we reach out to others and calm them down emotionally we are actually calming ourselves. When we teach others the way to emotional balance we teach ourselves.

When networking with others in recovery becomes a habit then this creates a safety net. This is why 12 step programs recommend daily meetings. If you are “plugged in” to this type of networking every single day then it can help protect you from becoming too far off in your emotional balance.

3) Action based recovery – one of the worst ways to fight dry drunk syndrome is to do nothing. If you don’t do anything to try and actively correct your emotional state then you run the risk of letting it progress into a true relapse. Essentially a dry drunk has already relapsed emotionally and is one step away from the bottle. So the key is to pull yourself out of the emotional relapse. How can this happen?

Action. It is purposeful action that will make a difference in this case. Don’t think that you can sit around and wait for the solution to come to you. It won’t. You have to get out there and create your recovery.

Remember that it is our natural state for addicts and alcoholics to be using drugs and alcohol. This is our “normal” behavior and we will return to it eventually unless we take action to do something else.

For me, that “something else” that we need to do in recovery is to create a meaningful and purposeful life of sobriety. This doesn’t happen while sitting on a couch. You have to have vision and you have to chase your goals and you have to get out there and do stuff.

Find your passion and take action.

Action items – what you can do:

1) Tune in to your emotional state – so that you are aware if you are acquiring dry drunk syndrome.

2) Make a habit
- of helping others in recovery as protection against relapse.

3) Focus on action in recovery – don’t do nothing.


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  • Philip

    went to an AA discussion meeting today. I brought up the topic of alternate 12 steps. This went down like a lead seems that this morning in my group there was no tolerance for someone who doesn’t think the AA way. I can understand the concept of ‘Higher Power’ in a way that suits me. ( If I get a pain in my lower right side I will definitely not attempt to take out my own appendix I will leave it to someone who knows what they are doing!)I do have questions about powerlessness over alcohol. I believe it can be released using the Sedona Method and similar techniques.. we are then left with an ability to take personal responsibility over the alcohol and not fob it off unto a magical ‘Higher Power’. I find spiritual peace in Zen and teachers such as Eckhart Tolle. the dualistic me and god approach doesnt do it for me,
    So today I am fed up with AA its just not floating my boat.. and as your article says I can see that I am a bit ‘aff’ as we say in Belfast..
    sorry for the rant


  • Patrick

    Hi there Philip

    Glad to see that you are thinking outside of traditional recovery dogma, but I doubt that an AA meeting will ever be the right place for 12 step alternatives. I have seen others go off topic in meetings before and the effect is always the same…a good chairperson will recenter the discussion as it pertains to AA and recovery. This is just how it is, and probably how it should be. Their singleness of purpose is powerful and focused if nothing else, although it does irk me that they claim open-mindedness…..

  • mayhem

    Frist I will appogize b 4 I affend anyone because someone will b.I have been sober 4 6yrs,and say that w/great Pride,I thank God 4 removing my desire,But OH MY GOD !!I was in a relationship 4 3yrs w/a man that also was sober 6yrs,and very dedicated to AA,chairing meetings,has sponsie BLAH BLAH,I did’nt mind at first bring home females #’s (FRIENDS)and all the privet calls,meeting them at meetings,He was always throwing AA in my face how I needed to do the steps that I was a dry drunk,well let me tell you,I caugth jim messing w/4 women from MEETINGS,all this crap about Praticing The Principals in all of our affairs,Integrity,Honesty,morales,AND WHO’S the DRY DRUNK,Deceit,Lies,Betrayed,And the SOBER females knew who I was,2faced ,I know More people that use with far more Principals then what I learned and saw,so when my sober x took a hammer to my jeep,smashed out all glass,throw propane tank smashed hood,tore my interlock out twice from jeep,twice off my harley,and told me as he held me down spit 3 lugies in my face and broke my ribs that I was’nt worth the air I breathed or the spit in my face,calling me every name in the book and glorifing the others telling my you dont know how many or waiting 4 u 2 f up,And I did’nt have a clue how many he’d been with,he did so much damage 2 my left arm its deformed,making over n over amends WHATEVER!!!!I’d Have felt better know the females were drunk,It least they’d have an excuse 4 their actions,(he weights 140lbs more then my 118lbs) so I’m sure the Truth not b known in the meeting of@#$@! IT”S ALL B-S LIES,TALK THE TALK WALK THE M-R F-R WALK<#HIT

  • Patrick

    Wow, that is quite a comment there Mayhem…I think what I’m hearing from you is that some people get sober and then they abuse the program and they start 13 stepping in the fellowship and they continue to hurt people and screw things up big time. I know that happens and people will do evil things and try to hide behind the wall of the “fellowship.” Not pretty and not fair to you or anyone else.

    If you have toxic people in your life then you might have to make a decision. Choose to live with the toxicity or walk away from it. Like you said, with some people, it is all BS and lies. If they are not gonna change then you best be moving on…..

  • Dave

    I have stopped drinking seevral times and the last time was over 4 years ago. I went to a Aversion Recovery center and I can tell you I will never drink again. I had tried AA meeting before and after my recovery and have always left the meeting feeling like using again. Why is that? Some people tell me they feel so inspired after a meeting. Im the one who is going to quit. I know what has worked for others in my family and AA has never been something that has worked.

  • Patrick

    @ Dave – glad you found a solution that works for you. I have been to some great meetings, but also some that sort of had a negative effect on me was well. These days I do other things, and don’t hit many meetings at all….

  • Steve

    Please, everyone, look into “Seven Weeks to Sobriety” by Joan Mathews Larson, who successfully treats and cures alcoholics at the “Health Recovery Center”.

    Dry-drunk syndrome is “hypoglycemia”, and Joan’s approach centers on correcting the bio-chemical imbalances in the body that cause the suffering we experience as addiction and other disorders.

    We are indeed responsible for our behavior, but the acute cravings for alcohol in the body are related to blood sugar levels.

    Joan recognizes 3 other bio-chemical types of alcoholism, as well.

    I am using her book “Depression Free Naturally”, I have changed my diet, and am restoring to my body the missing supplements needed for an emotionally healthy body.

    I always thought my depression/anxiety/alcoholism were mental/spiritual/emotional, and I do have wounds in those places, but without a proper phsyical foundation it makes healing those areas so much harder.

    God bless,