The Myth of the "Dry Drunk"

The “dry drunk” is no myth at all. It is a very real syndrome that many alcoholics have to face. A dry drunk is an individual who has given up drinking alcohol, but hasn't relinquished the thoughts and behaviors that characterize an alcoholic. A dry drunk may have deceived herself that she is recovered from alcoholism, but in truth, she has only stopped drinking. Recovery from the old patterns of thinking and behaving is missing.

When a person with an alcohol addiction decides to enter recovery, he typically goes through a grieving process. (Grief typically includes five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.) It is not that the individual is losing something he loves, but he is losing something with which he is very familiar. This is a painful and frightening experience. It is suggested that the dry drunk has moved through the denial stage of grief and is stuck in the anger stage.


Family members often don't recognize the dry drunk in their midst. They may be so used to the attitudes and behaviors of the alcoholic, and so happy that the alcoholic has stopped drinking, that the signs of the dry drunk go unnoticed.

How does one recognize a dry drunk? There is often a feeling of nostalgia for the drinking life, fantasizing or daydreaming about how things used to be. A dry drunk may act self-important and grandiose, blaming others for her problems. She may continue to engage in impulsive behaviors and impatience. There may be mood swings and feelings of dissatisfaction.

The dry drunk may withdraw from others and from treatment programs, instead becoming self-absorbed and believing she can manage on her own. There is an attitude of either “poor me” or “I have all the answers.” Treatment for the dry drunk involves facing the problem, completing the grief process, and continuing on with honest, genuine recovery.

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