Healing from a substance use disorder is a lengthy, complex process involving many ups and downs. Choosing to quit drinking or using is an essential first step, but achieving lifelong sobriety involves more than abstaining from alcohol and drugs. 

One potential pitfall for people in recovery is “dry drunk syndrome,” a term that originated in Alcoholics Anonymous. It refers to any characteristic of substance abuse that persists into sobriety, such as trying to sweep challenging emotions under the rug rather than confronting them head-on with healthy coping mechanisms. In some cases, dry drunk behavior patterns might be part of a broader condition known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome. 

What Does Dry Drunk Behavior Look Like?

While the use of the phrase “dry drunk” is somewhat controversial today, it’s essential to understand that dry drunk syndrome is not a failing or weakness. It is a legitimate health condition that can happen to anyone who is struggling to overcome an addiction. 

Dry drunk syndrome brings some red flags that can alert you to a potential problem:

  • Resentment toward supportive friends or family who encourage the person in recovery to stay sober
  • Anger and negativity surrounding recovery
  • Depression, anxiety and fear of a return to substance abuse
  • Jealousy of friends who are not struggling with addiction
  • Frustration with treatment, which might cause them to quit attending recovery group meetings
  • Romanticizing the addiction – choosing to focus solely on the positive memories of substance abuse, while ignoring all its adverse effects
  • Replacing the original substance of use with a different fixation, such as food or gambling
  • Negativity or hopelessness about the ability to quit drinking or using

Understanding Dry Drunk Syndrome

Many addictions take root because people sense an unmet need in their life, or a vacancy they need to fill. Alcohol or drugs become a crutch that provides short-lived relief from this emptiness. As an addiction progresses, it becomes increasingly challenging for users to achieve an even keel when they are sober.

Someone in recovery is not merely refusing to continue abusing mood-altering substances. They are rebuilding their entire identity – an overwhelming concept for anyone to confront – and they are doing it stripped of the security blanket they have come to rely on to shield them from everyday realities. That alone can explain why a person may develop dry drunk syndrome.

What to Do If Your Loved One Exhibits Dry Drunk Behavior Patterns

Not everyone in recovery experiences dry drunk syndrome, but for many people, it’s part of their journey. If your loved one is falling into dry drunk behavior patterns, your support and encouragement can help them learn to manage these symptoms and their impact. Offer your empathy and let them know you’re there to provide a listening ear whenever they need to talk. You can also reinforce the value of continuing to attend support group meetings, where they can hear from other people who have encountered similar issues.

In some cases, returning to rehab can be beneficial for those who did not address the root cause of their substance use disorder the first time around, or people living with a dual diagnosis. At BRC Recovery, our world-class treatment program equips young men with the skills they need to prevent relapse while having fun in recovery. To learn more, connect with us today.