While many associate “drunkenness” with behaviours like stumbling around, slurring words, or excessively loud speech, these tend to be telltale signs of intoxication by someone who has been drinking. Dry drunk syndrome, however, describes the emotions, thoughts and interactive nature of someone who has not consumed any alcohol, yet continues to “act” drunk.
What Is A Dry Drunk?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Author R.J. Solberg defined the term as “the presence of actions and attitudes that characterized the alcoholic prior to recovery.”
Dry drunk syndrome manifests as part of a broader condition known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). When a heavy drinker quits drinking, their brain must adjust to the chemical damage that alcohol has caused. This process can last for weeks, months, or sometimes even years.
What Is The Difference Between Dry Drunk Syndrome and PAWS?
Even though it comes from the medical community, PAWS is not an official medical diagnosis. PAWS is how the medical community describes a collection of ongoing psychological and mood-related withdrawal symptoms that may take place long after addiction detox.
PAWS often comes in waves, and can continue in cycles long after receiving treatment. Each “episode” of PAWS can last for a few days or longer. How often and for how long a person experiences these symptoms depends on a variety of factors.
The following conditions can inform or worsen PAWS:
- Which substance(s) were the focus of the addiction
- How long, how frequently, and how much of these substances were used
- Emotional issues that may surface during the first year(s) of recovery
- Co-occurring physical and/or mental health conditions
- The type of support and treatment options provided by substance abuse recovery professionals
Whereas “PAWS” is part of medical terminology, the idiom dry drunk is more of a colloquialism specific to Alcoholics Anonymous. It was coined as a phrase by AA creators to describe the emotional “roller coaster” that those in addiction recovery may experience even after acute withdrawal symptoms have gone away.
Dry Drunk Symptoms
Drinking–or whatever the substance of choice may be–becomes like a security blanket for an addicted individual. Thus, when that substance is removed from their life, things can get worse before they get better. Someone experiencing dry drunk syndrome may encounter any of the following internal or external symptoms during recovery:
- Irritability, frustration, or anger
- Impatience, restlessness, or difficulty focusing
- Depression, anxiety, and fear of relapse
- Resentment directed toward themselves, people who can still drink, or people who want them to quit drinking
- Distraction or boredom
- Trouble sleeping
- Aggressive or impulsive behavior
- A tendency to judge, blame, or criticize themselves harshly
- Frustration with treatment, which may lead to skipping meetings or counseling sessions, or giving up on them entirely
- Daydreaming or romanticizing about alcohol use or their drinking days
- Replacing the addiction with a new vice (e.g., sex, food, and internet use)
Why Might Someone Suffer From Dry Drunk Syndrome?
Both those struggling with an addiction and their families hope that, with the addictive substance removed, everything will be “okay.” The reality, however, is that the development of every addiction is complex. Furthermore, the addiction more than likely began because the person was not “okay” to begin with.
Recovery from addiction is not just learning how to say “no” to a substance. Because of the way the brain and body have become dependent upon and altered by a substance at the chemical (including emotional and psychological) level, addiction recovery essentially means rebuilding one’s identity without it.
Some people experience sobriety the way others process loss–or even death. They have to work through accepting the change, grieve, and learn to grow beyond it. Even someone who has willingly given up the substance of an addiction may struggle to be rid of the fixation or obsession with it.
The removal of this coping crutch can feel like the physical equivalent to losing your arm on the dominant side. When you’re used to relying on one particular thing to get through life, it takes retraining of the entire body and mind to make up for what used to be “auto-pilot.”
This is how dry drunk syndrome comes into the picture. The body, mind, and emotions are having to re-learn how to process the world. Before the healing is complete, they default to the ways it became wired to in addiction.
This can make recovering individuals feel that they are “white-knuckling it” through life. Some may still have strained relationships or maintain unhealthy physical and mental habits. The good news is that, with time and a dedication to counseling and learning new ways to cope with life, recovery beyond both addiction and dry drunk syndrome is possible.
We’re Here To Help
Many recognize the need to cease addictive behaviour, and this choice is an extremely important and courageous first step. However, all too often neither the person suffering from addiction nor their loved ones realize how long the road to recovery can be–or the likelihood of setbacks.
While sobriety is a noble pursuit, dry drunk syndrome is most common for those to quit drinking on their own. Reach out to us today, and let Reflections Rehab come beside you for the long–but rewarding–road to recovery.