Dry Drunk Syndrome

Alcohol addiction is a treatable disease, but successful treatment generally requires professional intervention. That’s because while the physical dependence on alcohol can easily be treated through the detox process, it usually takes intensive psychotherapy to address and work through the complex issues that underlie the addiction and replace the associated learned behaviors and attitudes with healthier ones.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses that detox is only the first step in overcoming an addiction.(1) Achieving long-term sobriety typically requires considerably more than willpower and good intentions.(2)

Dry drunk syndrome, known as protracted withdrawal syndrome in academic circles, is a set of behaviors and attitudes that may persist once the physical dependence on alcohol has been broken, according to the National Institutes of Health.(3) The symptoms of dry drunk syndrome commonly precede a relapse, even if you’ve been sober for the long-term.

Signs and Symptoms of Dry Drunk Syndrome

Over time, alcoholism leads to abnormal attitudes and behaviors that can follow you into sobriety. Such self-destructive thoughts and actions don’t resolve themselves simply by virtue of your sobriety, and they can quickly put your successful recovery at risk.

Signs and symptoms of dry drunk syndrome include:
  • Harmful thoughts and attitudes, such as intolerance, hostility, impatience and blaming
  • Dishonesty with oneself and others
  • The inability to focus or make decisions
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Difficulty with expressing emotions
  • Feelings of dissatisfaction, boredom, isolation or detachment
  • Feelings of nostalgia for your drinking days
  • Insomnia
  • Cravings
  • Anxiety or depression

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other therapeutic interventions are essential for helping you replace self-defeating internal dialog with healthier thoughts and attitudes. The sooner you begin engaging in therapy and attending support group meetings, the lower your risk of developing dry drunk syndrome.

What to Do If You Experience Dry Drunk Syndrome

Often, the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome are followed by a relapse, which may temporarily alleviate negative emotions and attitudes but which will certainly lead to bigger problems.(4) The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends a number of strategies for coping with dry drunk syndrome. The two that are the most effective—and the most far-reaching—are attending regular 12-step meetings and engaging in individual or group therapy.

Other ways to address the symptoms include:
  • Evaluating your expectations about recovery to ensure they’re realistic.
  • Celebrating accomplishments and getting encouragement from family friends, and peers in recovery.
  • Ensuring that any mental illnesses like anxiety or depression are being effectively treated by a mental health professional.
  • Engaging in healthy lifestyle habits to control stress and improve overall health and wellbeing. These include getting plenty of exercise, eating healthy food and getting enough sleep.

Recovery isn’t easy, and maintaining realistic expectations and finding joy in the small victories is essential for reducing stress and maintaining sobriety in the early stages of recovery. Fully engaging in treatment and in the aftercare plan once your treatment program is complete can help stave off symptoms of dry drunk syndrome and put you on solid footing as you head into the early months of recovery. If you or someone you know needs help please contact us so we can determine if Safety Net Recovery Services are a good fit for you.


  1. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
  2. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction
  3. https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-98-003.html
  4. http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA10-4554/SMA10-4554.pdf

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