What is a Dry Drunk?
Sometimes also referred to as “Dry Drunk Syndrome”, this is slang for certain behaviors that former alcoholics engage in, which are still dysfunctional, or emulate certain aspects of being drunk. The term is also sometimes applicable to former addicts.
What causes someone to be a “dry drunk”?
Usually this occurs because the person in recovery has not successfully worked through behavioral and emotional changes. The addiction is, of course, still there, even though the substance is not being consumed. However, many of the reasons that led to the addiction have not been adequately addressed.
Also, the person may be in the processing of regression – that is, they are no longer dedicated or engaged in the recovery process. Reverting to drunk behaviors may indicate that someone is about to relapse.
The following are some behaviors that may surface during episodes when someone is dry drunk.
Behaviors and Attitudes
Selfishness and narcissism. Alcoholics are notoriously selfish, and put themselves and their priorities before others. They may return to a “It’s all about me” attitude.
Attention-seeking. Alcoholics often like to be the center of attention, whether positive or negative. Histrionic traits come out at this point, such as excessive displays of emotion or self-victimization.
Self-pity. Recovering alcoholics think no one understands their unique condition and may attempt to withdraw from others.
Impulsiveness. Making bad or dangerous decisions such as unprotected sex or other risky activities. It’s the classic Cartman “I do what i want” attitude with little regard for consequences.
Expressing negative judgments and perspectives. Alcoholics are quick to beat themselves up internally, but express their anger and frustration by taking it out on others, verbally. There is a general feeling of discontent or restlessness. Perhaps the person is dissatisfied currently with the recovery process.
Boredom and/or apathy. Nothing irritates an alcoholic more than the lack of alcohol during certain activities. This makes those activities seem less interesting, especially in the initial phases of recovery. Not enough time has past for the brain to release itself from the damage done through addiction.
Emotions run either high or low. This is another effect of withdrawal, and like being drunk, the person has difficultly regulating emotion. Thus, they may overreact or underreact in certain situations.
False nostalgia for the past. That is, alcoholics in recovery sometimes glamorize what it was like when they could drink. That’s because their brain is still in addiction mode, and they are incorrectly believing that the drunk times were happy times. It’s basically just another form of selective memory.
Setting unrealistic goals. The recovering alcoholic sets him or herself up for failure by thinking that recovery is this magical place where all relationships are fixed, careers are restarted, and life returns to some glorious ideal.
The return of depression and/or anxiety. When recovery is in process, it’s common for people to relapse emotionally. Showing signs of emotional disorder is a good indication that relapse is imminent without intervention.
Defensiveness. Alcoholics begin to defend their old behavior (and current negative behavior) and tear down barriers to drinking that they have worked so hard to erect. Problems are rationalized or minimized.
Basically, the dry drunk is returning to the same thought processes and behaviors that both fueled and sustained addiction.
If you or someone you know is a recovering alcoholic or addict, and is displaying these behaviors, please seek help immediately.