You have stopped drinking. Congratulations! Getting sober is a significant accomplishment and is worthy of (sober) celebration.
You Are Now Sober, What’s Next
But after the celebration comes vigilance. You already know that a substance use disorder can be treated but cannot be cured, so you know your recovery is an ongoing work in progress. In treatment, therapy, and 12-Step or other recovery programs, you have been developing a toolkit of strategies and resources that will help you stay sober. It isn’t easy, but you didn’t expect it to be. But as long as you don’t pick up a drink, everything is good, right?
Well, that might be true. But it also might not be.
When you give up alcohol (or other substances), you undeniably have taken an important step toward lasting sobriety. But it’s not the only step required.
Avoiding alcohol does not necessarily address the foundational issues that caused you to start drinking in the first place. Daily stressors, entrenched habits, and past but unresolved traumas (to name just a few potential triggers) are still lurking out there whether you are drinking right now or not.
And that means you may continue to struggle and to behave in ways that you probably hoped you would leave behind when you stopped drinking. If that describes your experience, you may be what is often called a “dry drunk.”
A Disclaimer About the Description ‘Dry Drunk’
In most circumstances, you would not encounter the word “drunk” used in the sense of “dry drunk” on this blog. It is far more accurate—and far more kind—to say that a person who is addicted to alcohol is suffering from a substance use disorder. Therefore, we steadfastly avoid constructions like, “John is a drunk.”
We make an exception in this specific case because the term “dry drunk” has taken on a recognized meaning in popular parlance and because it is memorable. Remembering the concept of the “dry drunk” may, in fact, help you recognize the signs in your own behavior or in the behavior of a loved one.
With that clarification about language in mind, let’s look at three sets of characteristic signs and symptoms that may indicate that you are a dry drunk.
Feeling Anger, Irritability, and Impatience
It might seem surprising that the newly sober often deal with feelings of anger. Maybe they are angry that they had to give up drinking. Maybe they are angry that they lost so much time (and possibly money, jobs, relationships, and more) to their drinking. Or maybe they were drinking to help keep their feelings of anger at bay. On top of all of that, they may struggle with impatience related to what they perceive to be the slow pace of positive change in their life.
This roiling feeling of anger is almost certainly going to boil over. It may cause the person in recovery to lash out at others—often in ways that might seem wholly out of proportion to the situation at hand.
Embracing Unhealthy Nostalgia and Poor Impulse Control
While most people would acknowledge that drinking made their life worse rather than better, the fact remains that many people hold on to memories from their drinking days that they truly cherish. They tend to leave the bad parts of their experience out of the memories they replay in their minds, fixating on what they think of as the fun times or the moments they might have missed if alcohol had not lowered their inhibitions.
This longing for the past can lead to impulsiveness in the present as the person tries to recapture that spirit of excitement or connection.
Living in Denial and Feeling Overconfident
Just like a person who denies they have a drinking problem in the first place, a dry drunk may deny that there is any reason for them to, for example, continue going to 12-Step meetings or therapy. In extreme cases, a person might convince themselves that now that they have gone through treatment they can probably drink a little now and again without consequence.
But they were fooling themselves when they denied they had a substance disorder, and they are continuing to fool themselves if they think they can stay sober without a strong support system and a commitment to abstinence from alcohol.
Get the Help You Need to Embrace True Sobriety
If you (or a loved one) are showing signs of being a dry drunk, it is a good idea to work through the issues with a therapist. There may well be one or more mental health disorders in play, and working toward better mental health is a great way to support your recovery.
You will also want to be sure to keep your support system strong. From 12-Step meetings (or other recovery groups) to hanging out with supportive friends and family who know how important your sobriety is, your support system is a bulwark against relapse—and can help you spot the symptoms of being a dry drunk.
Of course, the very first step in your journey to lasting sobriety is getting treatment for your substance use disorder.
We Are Here To Help
At French Creek Recovery Center, we are committed to creating a personalized treatment plan that will see you through detox and rehab and ensure you start your recovery journey on the right foot. Our promise of a continuum of care means you will have the support and resources you need in the early days of sobriety—including resources for spotting and addressing the signs and symptoms associated with being a so-called dry drunk.
When you are ready to get on the road to lasting sobriety, we are ready to point the way.