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What is a Dry Drunk?

“Dry drunk” is an AA term that refers to someone who has quit drinking but hasn’t done any of the steps. It could also refer to someone who started out well, got complacent and started to backslide but hasn’t yet relapsed. This is typically someone who lives with all the stress, anger, and resentment she had before and during active addiction, but now has no way to bury it. She may even resent being sober and resent the people who wanted her to stop drinking.

Dry drunks are often unpleasant. Carrying so much anger and resentment tends to make them tense and negative. They often expected their problems would go away when they stopped drinking but that rarely turns out to be true. They don’t consider that their regular habits and ways of thinking are what led to addiction in the first place. The years of addiction probably helped to pile on more bad habits, shame, anger, and resentment. Expecting all that just to go away is unrealistic. If someone doesn’t actively work on those aspects of her life, she is likely to be disappointed in recovery.

It’s worth noting that calling someone a dry drunk may be unfairly disparaging. Sometimes the problems that accompany addiction are beyond the power of the individual or group. Dual diagnoses, or having another mental health issue along with addiction, are very common. About half of people seeking treatment for addiction also need treatment for a mental health issue. That means a dry drunk may appear to be stalled in recovery because she hasn’t been working the steps when actually she is struggling with a mental health issue that requires therapy, medication, or both. If someone stops drinking but her clinical depression remains, it’s hardly fair to criticize her for being negative or not being active enough in recovery.

Despite that caveat, the concept of a dry drunk is a useful reminder that recovery doesn’t stop with abstinence. Addiction is more often a symptom than a cause of one’s problems. If you don’t address the underlying issues, recovery will be a miserable slog at best and relapse will be likely. Treating the underlying problems is not easy. You have to work on it every day. Above all, you can’t let yourself become complacent. As with most things in life, recovery is either moving forward or moving backward.

Life in recovery is supposed to be better than life before addiction. If it’s not, you need to figure out what is holding you back. Gardens Wellness Center specializes in detox and getting you started in treatment that works best for you. We address all aspects of addiction, not just the physical dependence. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.