Medically Reviewed

What is a Dry Drunk?

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Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can take a toll on every part of a person’s life. Their relationships, health, and emotional wellness suffer as alcohol abuse becomes the center of their life. People with alcohol abuse and alcoholism need compassionate, comprehensive treatment and ongoing support to get sober and stay committed to recovery for life.

But what happens when someone who has had treatment still feels stuck in their old, destructive patterns and problems? Some people refer to this as dry drunk syndrome. Being dry drunk means that a sober person is still struggling with thoughts and behaviors that harmed them while they were drinking.

It’s essential to understand why being dry drunk can happen to people in recovery from alcohol abuse and how to move forward in your recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with unhealthy behaviors or patterns in alcohol abuse recovery, reach out to the PAX Memphis team for support.

What is a “Dry Drunk”?

Some alcoholism experts use the term “dry drunk syndrome” to describe lingering unhealthy habits and beliefs that remain after someone with alcoholism stops drinking. This term was first used by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1970. In recent years, the term “dry drunk” has taken on a negative connotation among some 12-step community members. But dry drunk syndrome can happen to anyone in recovery from alcoholism–especially those who do not seek professional treatment to stop drinking.

What are the Symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome?

People with dry drunk syndrome might exhibit some of the destructive behaviors, thoughts, and relationships they had while drinking. They may hold on to emotional pain or habits that caused them to start drinking in the first place.

Dry drunk syndrome can happen to anyone in recovery, but it is more likely to occur in people who stop drinking independently without professional intervention, treatment, and support. Recognizing the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome can help you identify a problem and seek the support and treatment you need to move past it.

Some signs include:

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Intense fear of relapse
  • Resentment toward loved ones
  • Feelings of jealousy toward people who don’t struggle with alcohol abuse or alcoholism
  • Self-obsession
  • Developing a new addiction to food, sex, or other vices

Medical and alcoholism experts believe that dry drunk syndrome is almost entirely psychological. The only known solution to address dry drunk syndrome is identifying underlying thought patterns and beliefs that keep people “stuck.”

Why Does Dry Drunk Syndrome Occur?

Alcohol use disorder is a complex condition that often develops when people need to manage something that exceeds their ability to cope. People with untreated mental illness, chronic stress or pain, trauma, and other adversity are more likely to use drugs and alcohol to dull their emotional pain or manage other uncomfortable symptoms.

While people with alcoholism might hope that they’ll feel better once they stop drinking, it’s nearly impossible to recover fully without addressing what caused the alcoholism in the first place. When someone who has been using alcohol to mask deeper issues suddenly stops drinking, the problems remain.

Alcoholism experts believe people are more likely to develop this syndrome if they don’t seek professional treatment when they stop drinking. Comprehensive treatment programs are designed to help people identify and overcome the behavioral, emotional, and physical components of their alcohol addiction.

Treatment plans include therapy, medications, mental health treatment, and holistic therapies to support a person’s overall well-being. Without treatment, people may stop drinking without understanding why they started in the first place.

How to Support Someone With Dry Drunk Syndrome

If a loved one is struggling in recovery from alcohol abuse and showing signs of dry drunk syndrome, you can advocate for them and support them in several ways.

First, encourage your loved one to start or continue professional treatment. People with dry drunk syndrome may worry that they have failed in recovery because they don’t feel as good or in control as they’d hoped to. They may disengage from their recovery-related activities or quit attending treatment. Encourage them to keep going and remind them of how much progress they’ve made so far.

You can also encourage your loved one to seek new habits and hobbies that keep them active. People with dry drunk syndrome may feel depressed and might not have the energy to seek out experiences that bring them joy. You could suggest:

  • Taking a class to learn a new skill, language, or craft
  • Learning to play an instrument
  • Playing a new sport or trying a new way to work out
  • Attending regular 12-step meetings or therapy groups

If your loved one had a hobby they once loved, encourage them to get back into it. Helping them create a new routine and develop new interests can help your loved one break out of the cycle of alcoholism and move forward into a healthier, more fulfilling future.

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one struggles with dry drunk syndrome, contact the team at PAX Memphis for help. Contact our admission staff today to explore our alcohol rehab programs or to find support at any stage of recovery.