What Is a Dry Drunk?

What Is a Dry Drunk?The term dry drunk is an oxymoron: it implies being abstinent and intoxicated at the same time, and denotes a person who exhibits the behavior of an alcoholic without drinking.

Another term for dry drunk is “dry, not sober.” A person who is dry and not sober has stopped drinking, but either has not achieved sobriety or has regressed into the thought patterns and behaviors of an alcoholic. Although a dry drunk no longer drinks, other characteristics of alcoholics persist, including irrational, destructive, immature and maladaptive reactions to stress.

The condition of being a dry drunk can come and go, or it may persist. At the very least a person experiencing a dry drunk will not fully achieve sobriety nor benefit from all it has to offer; in the worst case a dry drunk behavior can be a precursor to relapse.

What Causes Dry Drunk Behavior?

Since alcoholism is often a maladaptive reaction to stress, and also since alcoholics often self-medicate emotional pain, it is imperative to treat not only drinking, but also any underlying psychological or emotional issues that augment the drinking. If the substance of abuse is removed but the emotional issues remain untreated, an alcoholic is likely to feel a great void where the alcohol used to be. In times of stress the alcoholic will need to reach out for relief she expects from alcohol, and it won’t be there. The result can be a dry drunk, which more often refers to a condition rather than a person. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous aptly describes the condition as one of being “restless, irritable and discontented.”

Alcoholism changes a person’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, personality and almost every other aspect of his character. Therefore, it is critical to treat not only the drinking behavior and its underlying issues, but also the other manifestations of maladaptive behavior learned through the course of the addiction. Unless a patient addresses the behaviors that addiction taught, this will render recovering alcoholics incapable of coping with stress, which will almost certainly lead to a relapse.

Signs of a Dry Drunk

A dry drunk will often exhibit many of the same behaviors and thought processes that she did while still drinking. While these behaviors vary depending on the individual, some classic behaviors typical to a dry drunk include the following:

  • Selfishness
  • Grandiosity
  • Impulsivity
  • Being judgmental
  • Complacency

A recovering alcoholic exhibiting any or all of these behaviors may still be dealing with psychological or emotional issues that need to be addressed. She may also be headed for a relapse and requires immediate help.

Help Overcoming Dry Drunk

If you or someone you know is in recovery from alcoholism but continues to feel “restless, irritable and discontented,” further treatment may be required and could help patients succeed in recovery. If you have any questions about alcoholism, treatment or recovery, call us. Our helpline is toll free and we are available 24 hours a day.