What is Dry Drunk Syndrome and How Is It Overcome?

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : January 01, 
| 4 Sources

How can someone be a drunk if they are not drinking?

Unlike dry drunk patients, there are those who can give up drinking and then lead a relatively normal, balanced life without any further assistance. These individuals, however, seem to be in the minority. Many recovering alcoholics need additional help. This can be in the form of support groups, medications, or behavioral therapy. 

For those who give up drinking and remain (or return to) behaviorally, emotionally and psychologically a drunk, we have a term, "Dry Drunk".

This term is obviously an oxymoron as it implies that a person is drunk without ingesting alcohol.

Dry Drunk Syndrome is a condition where an alcoholic retains the mental and behavioral traits associated with drunkenness even when he or she is not drinking alcohol. They are still struggling with the psychological and emotional maladies that might have actually fueled their addiction to start with, and carries on to have a grip on their consciousness.

Surely, one would think that the “dry” state is a critical objective for alcoholism treatment regimen. Unfortunately, the presence of this syndrome is actually an indication that an individual is in danger of alcohol relapse. He or she remains emotionally disturbed, mentally unstable and spiritually skewed despite quitting alcohol.

Thus, as an alcoholic, nothing significant has been achieved under a dry drunk condition aside from stopping the habit of drinking alcohol. In fact, the manifestation of typical signs of dry drunk syndrome is a red flag that we should be concerned about the individual and their recovery.

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Avoiding Dry Drunk Syndrome - Undertaking Comprehensive Alcoholism Treatment

This syndrome (the existence of which is by no means universally accepted) is used by some in the addiction field to highlight the importance for comprehensive alcohol dependence treatment programs. It is not enough just to stop drinking.

For many, an important part of their recovery is having a solid foundation of understanding regarding the disease concept of addiction. This is often learned in treatment programs, either inpatient or outpatient. Programs also address any behavioral and/or emotional concerns that need to be addressed to have a healthy recovery.

A dry drunk will find that their daily routine is detached from reality, their relationships are still strained and their alcoholic behavior remains volatile and undesirable.

Overall, they find that being in recovery is not as pleasant as some make it out to be. These problems could become extremely physically and mentally draining, and cause the alcoholic to, unfortunately, relapse.

The feeling of total helplessness could be more than daunting.

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Dry DrunkContributor: Mykhailo Palinchak

Many individuals find that to have a healthy recovery, they need to engage in therapy. Individual counseling gives you the opportunity to address any destructive behaviors, traumas, and any other mental health concerns they may have.

  • For many, drinking has turned into a coping skill for an underlying concern. While it is an unhealthy coping skill, it does numb you from feeling whatever discomfort you are experiencing.

A challenge that many find is that coping skills that do not involve alcohol and/or other drugs do not numb you from discomfort. Rather, they help you learn to sit with the discomfort and move on from it which can be a daunting task for someone used to numbing the discomfort.

  • Individual therapy can be a healthy environment to work on thought processes that are common among alcoholics, however tend to have a negative impact on our lives. These are called Cognitive Distortions and refer to thinking patterns that are not healthy.

Everyone has some sort of distortions, they are usually the result of experience and environment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is commonly used to help work through problematic thought processes.

  • Common distortions among alcoholics would be disqualifying the positive, black and white thinking and over generalization. Mental health therapists can work with you to understand where these thoughts originated, and help you learn to challenge them.

If you feel that you can relate to any of those, it may be worth speaking to a counselor or therapist. A common misconception is that you need to be struggling to work with a therapist or counselor.

The truth is, that everyone can benefit from counseling at some point in their life.

The Signs/Symptoms of the Syndrome

Dry drunk syndrome generally occurs within the first years of sobriety (intermittently during the early months). A recovering alcoholic needs to be aware of the typical signs of Dry Drunk Syndrome in order to prevent falling into relapse. Being aware of the red flags can help you catch yourself when struggling. If you do recognize any of the signs below, it is necessary to follow through with relapse prevention skills:

  • Feelings of superiority – When a recovering alcoholic fails to achieve sober realism, he or she exaggerates his sense of self-importance. This skewed mindset may be manifested either as strength or weakness in character.
  • Intolerance – An alcoholic is prone to make inappropriate evaluations and tend to become exceedingly judgmental in his or her actuation's and interaction with other people.

This can sometimes develop into anger management problems, which greatly complicate the recovery process. This can be present in their behaviors, postures and even the way that they speak to others.

  • Misplaced value judgment - The need for instant gratification of one’s personal desires becomes the overriding concern of an alcoholic. A recovering alcoholic loses his or her sense of priority to a point that even a passing fancy is given due course over that of the more essential concerns.
  • Unpremeditated acts – Failure to control the need for instant gratification will trigger impulsive acts and feelings. This impulsiveness will ultimately force a person to ignore the implications of his or her actions and decisions. 
  • Vacillation – A person who tends to become impulsive will also be indecisive. Indecisiveness occurs when an alcoholic fails to weigh the implications of his or her action or decision. He or she vacillates when faced with several courses of action and ends up not taking action at all.

Alcoholics could develop a lot of abnormal behaviors and attitudes. Other behaviors that can be part of this syndrome are as follows: 

  • Abrupt shifts from depression to euphoria
  • Inability to express feelings and emotions naturally
  • Lack of introspection
  • Evidence of distortion and distraction
  • Avoid emotional connection or attachment
  • Unrealistic appreciation of self-worth
  • Detachment from reality

What to Do If You Are Suffering From
Dry Drunk Syndrome

A part of having a healthy recovery includes having a safe plan for difficult times. There are many factors that can contribute to a difficult time including interpersonal troubles, financial stress, health concerns and job stress.

The hope is that you would have a list that you could fall back onto, however, if you do not, you can use the following suggestions as a reference:

  • If you are a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, then you can attend a meeting, you can call your sponsor or you can reach out to another member for support. Be honest about why you are reaching out and accept help offered. Check out the AA chat room if you are unable to catch anyone who is free at the time you need.
  • If AA is not your thing then access an alternative support group such as SMART RecoverySOS or LifeRing. Similarly, be honest about your current struggle and worry of a potential relapse. Addiction thrives on isolation, by putting yourself in a situation that elicits connection, you are putting yourself in a better position.
  • If you have a counselor, reach out to them. If you do not have a counselor, consider finding a local counselor who can try to help you change your behavior and thinking patterns. 
  • Talk to another recovering alcoholic who can listen and give advice. This could be a friend, college or a family member. Someone who can empathize with your situation is a great help in times of darkness. Again, this would foster a connection which can help disprove that thought of being alone in your addiction.
  • If all else fails, check into a treatment center; you don't have to be an active alcoholic to go into treatment. It is a misconception that all that happens in rehab is alcoholism detox. In treatment centers, you will find individuals who have a wide range of drinking concerns and consequences to their drinking. Some have had little consequences while others have lost everything.

While in rehab you will undergo a comprehensive treatment program including group therapy, counseling, relapse prevention etc. A large component of treatment programs is an education regarding the disease concept of addiction and how to cope with it. In other words all those things that will prevent you from becoming a dry drunk.

You can get your normal life back, the life that you’ve had before alcohol. The first step is asking for help. You may reach out to a treatment provider who can help you with the right treatment options for you.

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Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


Cigna. The Dry Drunk. March 2018. https://www.cigna.com/individuals-families/health-wellness/the-dry-drunk

US Addiction Services. What is Dry Drunk Syndrome?. August 16, 2019. https://usaddiction.com/alcohol/dry-drunk-syndrome/

The American Journal of Psychiatry. THE PSYCHODYNAMICS OF THE "DRY DRUNK". April 1, 2006. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/ajp.112.6.460

Psychology Today. Is There A "Dry Drunk" in Your Life?. May 14, 2011. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/heartache-hope/201105/is-there-dry-drunk-in-your-life

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