Coping With Dry Drunk Syndrome Symptoms

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If you have quit drinking but are still struggling with the negative and destructive attitudes and feelings you did during active addiction, you may be dealing with what's called dry drunk syndrome. Originally coined by the creators of Alcoholic Anonymous, dry drunk syndrome can have a negative impact on the process of giving up drinking both physically and mentally.

While dry drunk syndrome is most common among people who quit alcohol without the support of addiction professionals, anyone can become a dry drunk, especially during the emotionally charged first year of sobriety.

Learning the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome as well as a few strategies to better cope can help you or someone you love to move past this stumbling block toward lasting recovery.

What It Looks and Feels Like

Dry drunk syndrome is part of the phenomenon known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). When a heavy drinker quits drinking, his brain must adjust to the chemical damage that alcohol has caused. This process can last for weeks, months, sometimes even years.

Symptoms of PAWS include dizziness, slow reflexes, and problems with balance and coordination.

A person dealing with side effects of PAWS actually may look like he's intoxicated even though he's been totally abstinent (which explains where the term "dry drunk" may come from).

Emotionally, a person dealing with PAWS may have mood swings and become depressed, making him tough to be around—maybe even as unpleasant as he might have been when he was drinking. Alcohol used to provide temporary relief from such feelings, but you can't rely on that anymore.

Symptoms

Dry drunk syndrome doesn't happen overnight. Instead, the following symptoms can develop slowly over time, especially during the first year of recovery.

  • Self-centered or superior attitude (in 12-step circles, this is known as "terminal uniqueness)
  • Poor impulse control
  • Sour, impatient, or complacent in your recovery
  • Anger and negativity about recovery
  • Resentment toward loved ones
  • Isolating yourself from your support network
  • Increasing anxiety and depression
  • Fear of relapse
  • Jealousy of sober friends or those not dealing with addiction
  • Romanticizing of drinking days
  • Cross-addiction or abuse of other behavioral addictions (sex, food, internet use)

Coping With Dry Drunk Syndrome

Recovery from an alcohol use disorder means more than quitting alcohol. Even after you no longer crave alcohol, you need to deal with the psychological and behavioral issues that contributed to your addiction in order to prevent relapse.

You may still be dealing with the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before finally reaching the point of accepting the absence of alcohol in your life.

Some people truly experience sobriety as a kind of death and have to accept the loss and learn and grow from the experience before they can move on.

Dry drunk syndrome interferes with this process and, although challenging, with the right support, it's not insurmountable. You may greatly benefit from the encouragement you can find at a support group meeting like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for referrals for treatment and support groups.

There are also a few steps you can take on your own to start enjoying your new sober life as you work toward lasting recovery. They may seem simple and unsurprising, but they do work for many people.

Find a Hobby

Take up gardening, start collecting an item you're truly interested in or fascinated by, learn how to build things and focus on the creative project. The goal is to fill the time you once spent drinking with activities that are enjoyable and engrossing.

Get Healthy

There's no question years of drinking can take a toll on the body. A big part of recovery and your new sober life is making your physical health a priority. Try healthful recipes, join a gym, take up a sport, try yoga (which can have mental benefits as well as physical ones). If you love dogs and don't have one, this is a great time to adopt a stray or volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter.

Try Something New

Now that you're no longer drinking, you have a chance to embrace your sober life and redefine your passions. Now is the time to pursue those things you've always wanted to learn. Audit a class at a local university or college, or commit to reading every book you can get your hands on about a topic you're interested in.

Lean on Your Loved Ones

No one expects you to recover from an alcohol use disorder alone—nor should you. Even the people who you alienated before you quit drinking may welcome the opportunity to spend time with you. Ask your partner out for regular date nights, get more involved with your grandkids, find fun activities to do with friends that don't involve drinking.

A Word From Verywell

The best way to prevent and/or cope with the physical and mental symptoms of dry drunk syndrome is to stay steadfast in your recovery. Now isn't the time to isolate yourself or become complacent in your sobriety, but to surround yourself with family, friends, and professionals who can support you as you work to build a sober and fulfilling life for yourself.

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