When an alcoholic manages to break their addiction, there can be a lot of initial optimism about the future. For years, life may have been a bit unbearable for the addict and their love ones, due to alcohol abuse. Now that the drinking has stopped it is reasonable to expect that things will improve. Unfortunately though, just removing alcohol is not enough in most cases to qualify as a “recovery”. Instead, it is just the first step in an ongoing process. If the individual does not put a lot of effort into their recovery, it can mean that they fail to progress. They get stuck and life away from alcohol will not be as fulfilling and happy as it should be. Such an individual can be classified as a dry drunk.
The term dry drunk is believed to originate from 12 Step recovery groups. It is used to describe those who no longer drink alcohol but in many ways behave like they were still in the midst of addiction. The dry drunk may be full of resentment and anger. Instead of finding joy in their life away from alcohol, they can act as if they were serving a prison sentence. The only change this person has made is to stop drinking, but in other respects their life remains the same. Friends and family can complain that the dry drunk is almost as hard to be around as they were when drinking. In AA, they describe it as a person that hasn’t touched alcohol in years, but have not yet managed to get sober.
Individuals who turn to alcohol or drugs for comfort will do so because they find life difficult to manage through daily life without it. This is because they have poor coping skills and feel unable to deal with life on life’s terms. They are able to use alcohol as a way to ignore their difficulties. This means that instead of learning from the challenges they face in life, they just ignore them. If such people manage to later escape addiction they will be in the same position they were in before the alcohol abuse began. In other words, they will just be returning to the same conditions that drove them to alcoholism in the first place.
Recovery is not about a return to how life was before addiction. If life was unsatisfying before the addiction, at the time it is unlikely to be satisfying now. Instead recovery is about starting a new way of life that is better than anything before. Nobody gets a free pass in life and living means dealing with challenges.
It would not be possible to remove all the stresses in life, but it is possible to develop new tools to deal with these challenges. In recovery the individual learns new coping strategies and this allows them to live a good life without the need to turn to intoxicants. Of course such personal development cannot occur unless the person is a willing participant and wants to change. The dry drunk describes the individual who has not managed to put the required effort into their recovery. They are still struggling to deal with life using their old flawed coping strategies.
A “dry drunk” will exhibit certain symptoms. Everyone has their bad days of course, and just because a person exhibits some negative behaviors occasionally does not necessarily mean that they stuck in recovery. The dry drunk is different because they are caught in a rut and repeatedly experience some of the following symptoms :
* The individual has a low tolerance for stress. They easily get upset if things are not going their way.
* The dry drunk continues to engage in unhealthy behaviors. In order to deal with their lack of satisfaction in recovery this individual may turn to new vices.
* Such an individual can suffer from loneliness and lack of interest in activities to fill their time. The fact that they make minimal effort to build a life in recovery means that things remain unsatisfactory.
* Denial can be as big a problem for the dry drunk as it can be for the practicing addict. The individual may refuse to see that their life in recovery needs to change. Due to this denial they may continue to live a miserable life in recovery indefinitely.
* Dry drunks may romance the drink. They forget how bad things were and can now only remember the good drinking days. This type of reminiscing is dangerous because it can only lead to relapse or increased resentment about being sober.
* Such a person is likely to suffer a lot from self-pity. Recovery is not as satisfying as they expected and they will feel cheated because of that.
* The dry drunk tends to be full of pride and feels over-confident about their abilities. They will not seek help from other people because they believe they already have all the answers.
* This individual may continue to engage in unethical behavior.
The term dry drunk is used as a pejorative in AA circles to describe people who aren’t working the program. It tends to be said in a judgmental way and for this reason may be considered an unhelpful description. It can also be used in an unfair way that amounts to victim blaming. Just because an individual is struggling in recovery does not necessarily mean that they are doing anything wrong. A significant number of alcoholics have a dual diagnosis which means that they have another mental health problem to contend with as well as their addiction. Describing such people as dry drunks is just ignoring their real problems and is therefore damaging.
The first step of avoiding dry drunk syndrome is recognizing the symptoms. The individual needs to be committed fully to recovery and to regularly monitor their own progress. They need to understand that recovery is a lifelong commitment that requires continued change and effort. After a few years, the pace slows down, but it should never stop completely. If life in recovery does not feel satisfying and fulfilling for much of the time, it is a sign that something is not quite right. It is vital that the individual looks closely at what is going wrong and remedies the situation or seeks help.
Membership of a support group like AA can be an advantage because it shows a continued commitment to recovery. Those who follow the 12 step program may find that it allows them to develop both mentally and spiritually. Other people will be able to build an equally satisfying life in recovery without belonging to any fellowship.
Those individuals who develops dry drunk syndrome can always escape this unsatisfactory way of living. The hardest part is admitting that there is a problem. Once this is done, the person will be able to examine where they have gone wrong in recovery. They may then decide that a support group or therapist is required to get them back on track.