People often use the term “dry drunk” to describe someone who is not actively using alcohol but is still experiencing any of the symptoms of alcoholism. Sometimes you will hear this condition referred to as “white-knuckling,” in which a person refuses to drink and manages not to do so, but is on edge, craving alcohol, and not using a formal treatment program or attending a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
A “dry drunk” is someone who is sober but is struggling with the emotional and psychological issues that led them to have a problem with alcohol in the first place.1 In some cases, people have what is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), or protracted withdrawal, in which they experience mood swings, anxiety, and depression after ceasing the use of alcohol or drugs. An estimated 75% of people who stop using alcohol will experience some degree of this syndrome.2
History of Dry Drunk
The term dry drunk has been around for some time and is often used by those in AA to describe people who do not participate in the program. AA notes that abstinence from alcohol is different than recovery. A person in sobriety without recovery will continue to face the underlying issues and remain at risk of developing another addiction. At times, people will substitute one addiction for another, such as turning to other addictive behaviors such as food addiction, sex addiction, or compulsive shopping. Someone who has not dealt with the underlying issues can easily relapse into some other form of addiction or return to drinking.1
Signs and Symptoms of Protracted Withdrawal
Protracted withdrawal is the presence of substance-specific signs and symptoms common to withdrawal that last longer than the expected time of acute alcohol withdrawal.3 The signs and symptoms of protracted withdrawal can include:2
- Irritable mood.
- Difficulty with problem-solving.
- Problems completing tasks.
- Cravings for alcohol.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Increased vulnerability to stress.
- Troubled social relationships.
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Other signs of dry drunk can include: 4
- Failure to note the damage alcohol did to you and your loved ones.
- Fear you can’t make a real change.
- Jealousy of others in recovery.
- Resentment toward others who persuaded you to quit drinking.
- Being defensive in the face of criticism.
- Playing the victim in most situations.
Finding a Purpose and Passion
Author Brene Brown notes that recovery through working a program has enhanced her life and her experience is not unusual. She notes that rather than focusing on what she no longer had, such as drugs and alcohol, the key to a better life for her was exploring her underlying reasons for using these substances. She describes finding new joy and purpose through learning to cope with stressors in her life rather than using substances.5
Other suggestions to help you rediscover your purpose include:4
- Explore art and music to increase your creativity.
- Try to reconnect with people with whom you lost touch due to your drinking.
- Consider starting a new business.
- Explore new spiritual activities.
- Pursue education or training to enter a new field.
How is it Treated?
If you’re struggling with sobriety after giving up alcohol, it may be time to seek professional help for alcoholism. Alcohol addiction treatment can be helpful in allowing individuals to better understand the disease, how to maintain sobriety and how to cope with triggers in a healthy way. The type of treatment that will be most suitable for you may be determined by several individual factors such as your current alcohol use and corresponding level of physical alcohol dependence, any previous attempts to quit, any co-occurring medical and/or mental health conditions, and any additional substance use.
Following treatment, participating in mutual-aid support groups can help in keeping you sober and preventing relapse. Monitoring by a treatment provider can help also prevent relapse and is often more effective than taking a “white knuckle” approach to abstinence.
Recovery is a healing process. It is important to note that sobriety is not the same as recovery. A person may be abstaining but still in need of treatment. People in recovery experience profound transformations of their emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. Abstinence is hard to sustain and most people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol need long-term support and intervention to achieve lasting recovery. 8
The Benefit of Support Groups
AA is a valuable tool for people in recovery. Research indicates that AA may be the most effective way to maintain recovery from alcoholism.6 The fellowship of AA helped people maintain recovery more effectively than did standard therapy. The emotional support given through AA and being able to learn from the experiences of those who have lived through recovery helps people to achieve a more effective recovery.7
AA, based on the 12-step model, is a well-known support group. Other groups include SMART Recovery and Secular Organizations for Sobriety. Any of these mutual-aid, or support groups, can be an important component of long-term recovery.
Get Help Now
If you’re ready to seek treatment for alcoholism or would like to know more about your treatment options, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help. AAC is the parent company of Alcohol.org and is a nationwide provider of treatment facilities focused on providing hope and recovery for those in need.
We are dedicated to making alcoholism treatment accessible to every person in need and our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to discuss your options. All calls are 100% confidential. Fill out the form below to see if your insurance covers treatment within an AAC facility now.
. Psychology Today. (2010). Being “sober” versus being in “recovery”.
. UCLA. (2020). Post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Protracted withdrawal.
. St. Joseph Institute for Addiction. (2019). What is dry drunk syndrome?
. Brown, B. (2017). What being sober has meant to me.
. B.S. McCrady. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences.
. Stanford Medicine. (2020). Alcoholics Anonymous most effective path to alcohol abstinence.
. Milhorn, H. T. (2018). Recovery. Substance Use Disorders; 225-241.