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What is a dry drunk? The term seems confusing at first, because “dry drunk” seems like a contradiction. How can someone be dry—not drinking—but be considered drunk?

At first, glance, when we examine the question of what is a dry drunk, it seems this oxymoron implies that an individual is drunk without consuming alcohol. Actually, the term “dry drunk” refers to a condition known as a dry drunk syndrome. Individuals with this condition retain the mental and behavioral traits associated with drunkenness, even when they’re not drinking alcohol. Put another way, they’re technically sober, but not of a sober mind.

A dry drunk syndrome is not to be confused with the early stages of recovery. Rather, it’s a long-term condition where people, even when they’re participating in addiction treatment, haven’t made any internal emotional or behavioral changes.

What is a Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Signs of the dry drunk syndrome include:1

  • An exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Indecisiveness
  • Frustration over loss of goals and/or progress that’s attributable to the addiction
  • Difficulty expressing feelings
  • Blaming others for feeling dissatisfied
  • Anger and lashing out at those who are supportive
  • Abrupt shifts from depression to euphoria
  • Isolation and avoiding support activities such as recovery meetings
  • Extremely negative attitude toward life
  • General resentment toward others

It can be extremely difficult for people close to those with dry drunk syndrome to deal with angry, resentful and negative behaviors. Many times, when a person approaches someone with dry drunk syndrome about the need for counseling, the angry response might be, “I’ve been sober for X amount of years! I’m fine!” However, it’s obvious to the people around the individual that they are not fine. It can be difficult to get people with dry drunk syndrome to see that their behaviors are abusive and upsetting.2

The Direct Approach: Ask the Question

It may be helpful to approach the person and ask, “Do you know what a dry drunk is?” They may not even be aware that dry drunk syndrome exists. Many people stuck in dry drunk syndrome think it’s just their post-addiction personality. They’ve been struggling with addiction and sobriety for so long, they may have forgotten how and what they used to be.

Seek Help for Yourself

When a person you know or love refuses to acknowledge or get help to treat dry drunk syndrome, you should seek help on your own. It can be hurtful and damaging for loved ones to have to deal with someone who can’t see past dry drunk syndrome. Also, seeking help can motivate your loved one to get help, when they see that you think it’s serious enough that you went for help on your own.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, ask yourself if the answers to the question, “What is a dry drunk?” fit you. If they do, seek help from a professional, and try not to isolate yourself from ongoing recovery activities. If you don’t seek help, you’ll be denying yourself the rewarding and fulfilling life that awaits you once you recognize and treat dry drunk syndrome.


  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/heartache-hope/201105/is-there-dry-drunk-in-your-life
  2. https://blogs.psychcentral.com/addiction-recovery/2014/06/6-common-fears-in-addiction-recovery-and-how-to-face-them/
What Is a Dry Drunk?
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