Dry Drunk Syndrome

Dry Drunk Syndrome


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

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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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