Just because an individual manages to stop abusing alcohol or drugs, it does not necessarily mean that their problems are all behind them. The reality is that stopping the substance abuse is just the first step in a long process that leads to a full recovery from addiction. Those who remain abstinent from alcohol or drugs without achieving sobriety will struggle to find any real enjoyment in life. Such people would be better described as on the wagon rather than free of addiction. The risk of relapse will always be high for these individuals. In many ways, their life in recovery may mirror their life as an alcoholic.
In common speech, it is usual to think of sober as meaning any individual who is not intoxicated, but the word can have a much fuller meaning. In recovery the word sobriety usually refers to something a lot more than just not drinking alcohol or abusing drugs. Those who advocate the 12 step approach view sobriety as a life where the individual is not only free of addiction but also moving towards complete physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Abstinence is something that can be forced onto an individual by others, but sobriety requires a lifelong commitment that requires personal effort. Getting sober in this instance is not a once-off event but instead a continuing process.
A dry drunk is an individual who abstains from alcohol (or drugs) but continues to act in much the same way as when they were drinking. They are not using alcohol but in many ways they are far from sober. In AA, it is common to hear about people who haven’t touched alcohol in years, but have still not managed to find sobriety. Such individuals can be difficult to be around because they are bitter and resentful about their abstinence, and do not appear to be enjoying life, though they have stopped abusing drugs and alcohol. The white knuckle effort of staying sober day after day means that life in recovery is not much fun. Some of their family and friends may ponder if things weren’t better when this person was still doing drugs or drinking.
The reason why people become dry drunks is that they get stuck in recovery. The early years free from addiction involve many hurdles that need to be dealt with. This is because addicts have poor coping skills for dealing with life. New strategies have to be developed in recovery and these are acquired by confronting obstacles and overcoming them. It is lack of an ability to cope with life that attracted such people to alcohol abuse in the first place. Just removing alcohol is not going to be enough to allow the individual to find happiness and comfort in life.
As the individual meets each new challenge, they develop and grow. Sometimes, though, a challenge comes along which the person in recovery refuses to face. They get stuck and will not be able to progress any further until the challenge is dealt with. Many of those who fail to progress will end up relapsing, but a minority somehow remain abstinent for years despite being stuck in recovery.
The term dry drunk is most often associated with AA philosophy. There are some in recovery who find such a description unhelpful and misleading. The problem is that the words dry drunk can be used in a judgmental way to describe anyone who isn’t following the AA program. Despite concerns about the misuse of this term, it can still be useful for describing a condition where a person is in recovery but is not making progress toward the goal of living a fulfilling life.
There is usually plenty of evidence when an individual is abstinent rather than sober. The most common symptoms of dry drunk syndrome include:
* Self-pity is a common feeling for those who are in the midst of a dry drunk. There is a famous saying in AA, poor me, poor me, pour me a drink.
* Denial is a problem for people who are stuck in recovery. It is this refusal to acknowledge the problem that means that they can’t get unstuck.
* Over-confidence means that the individual refuses to accept that they might need the help of anybody else.
* The individual is likely to turn to unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to escape their dissatisfaction with life in recovery. This could mean abusing other substances or behavior such as overworking.
* It is common for the dry drunk to romance the drink. They can only remember the good times with alcohol and this makes them bitter about not being able to enjoy it anymore.
* The dry drunk will tend to have a low tolerance for stress and hardship in life. They can easily become upset and irritated over the slightest thing. This makes such individuals difficult to be around.
* The person who is stuck in recovery will stop making an effort to build a life free of alcohol. They will often suffer from loneliness and feel depressed about their situation. It is like they have decided to wallow in their own misery.
Recovery from alcohol addiction should always mean moving towards a life that is fulfilling and enjoyable. People can lose their way, but there is almost always a way back on track. Most individuals will have to deal with at least a brief period where they get stuck in recovery, but there is almost always a way to move forward from this. The important thing is to recognize the problem and take steps to remedy the situation. Help can be found from support groups, counselors, sponsors, or addiction therapists.
Sobriety is a journey and all the individual needs for success is to keep on moving forward. This means facing all the challenges that appear along the way, and seeking out the right type of help and support. As the months and years in sobriety accumulate, dealing with life becomes a lot easier. It is important to realize, though, that the end of the path is never quite reached no matter how long people remain sober. This should not be a cause of concern as most of the fun of life is to be found in the journey itself and not at the destination.