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Chris Sharpe is also an associate of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa

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The Dry Drunk Syndrome by Chris Sharpe

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The Dry Drunk SyndromeSober but Stuck - The Dry Drunk Syndrome

The expression, dry drunk is an ambiguous term used by 12-step fellowships to describe someone who no longer drinks but continues to behave in a dysfunctional way. In other words; a dry drunk is someone who has given up alcohol or drugs, but as yet has failed to make any significant emotional or behavioural changes and is stuck in the initial stages of relapse.

The person experiencing the dry drunk is most probably not active member of the sobriety community; therefore they fail, for whatever reason to recognise sober realism or the true sense of sober living in their peers. As a result, their mental and emotional lives become chaotic, their approach to everyday living is unrealistic, and their behaviour, both verbal and physical, is often viewed as unacceptable. A dry drunk is an alcoholic or addict who shows little or no outwardly sincere interest in the true nature of recovery. They may currently be abstinent but will be making little or no spiritual progress. For instance, the dry drunk could be someone who’s doesn’t have an active sponsor, fails to adjust their lives to the guidance of a 12-step programme and whose attendance at meetings is either minimal or non-existent. As a result they may be unwillingly distancing themselves from the recovery process, remaining in a negative state of mind and feeling generally ill at ease with life.

Self-esteem issues are generally found at the core of most addicts. Yet in the dry drunk this may be cleverly disguised by a mask of grandiosity and their own sense of self-importance, or alternatively their insecurity and lack of self-worth causes them to become the resentful victim of life’s misfortune. Either way, the dry drunk will become isolated and distant from friends, family and fellowship members and unable to form satisfactory relationships with those who genuinely care.

The conditions of grandiosity, judgmentalism, intolerance, impulsivity, and indecisiveness are recognised symptoms of The Dry Drunk Syndrome. Taken separately or together these can lead to mood swings, their cause being either something insignificant or wrongly blamed on others thus totally unrelated to the true trigger circumstances, therefore the dry drunk experiences cruel limitations to the experience of growth, the inability to mature and to benefit from the possibilities that life generally offers. By denying these shortcomings, the dry drunk will often attempt to escape notice by highlighting the transgressions of others. To confuse matters, some alcoholics who experience the dry drunk may be seen as knowing all the answers and being seldom lost for words when it comes to self-diagnosis. Their knowledge can be quite impressive and convincing.

Someone suffering from The Dry Drunk Syndrome may be hard to be around, often seeming dissatisfied with life. Their actions and attitudes may be as unpleasant as when they were actively drinking. Mood swings come on suddenly, making the individual unpredictable and emotionally unstable. Overwhelming feelings of depression may descend without any reason followed by excited bouts of agitation, irritability or anxiety; these, plus conflicting displays of superiority or grandiosity are all unfortunate signs of dry drunk syndrome.

Because we are all different and may have our own experiences with The Dry Drunk Syndrome, additional signs and symptoms may include some of the following:

  • Poor quality of sleep and a general feeling of Negativity
  • Envy and feelings of resentment towards unsuspecting friends and associates who appear able to drink normally
  • Being easily overwhelmed by stress and stressful situations
  • Confused emotions, impatience and the inability to concentrate or think clearly
  • A longing for the excitement and drama of the old drinking days
  • Boredom, complacency and the failure to maintain a positive state of mind

Some of the most effective ways in which we can cope with The Dry Drunk Syndrome and thus avoid that eventual relapse are for instance: Taking part in individual therapy or the group process by attending 12 step meetings on a regular basis: Seeking help from others is crucial to the ego deflation process along with a positive involvement in the principles of the recovery program and an honest desire to repair the wrongs done to others.

It is also important for the Dry Drunk to make sure that expectations regarding their own recovery are realistic. Encouragement from family and friends can also be central to the recovery process, together with sharing successes and achievements with them. Regular exercise and eating healthily are also crucial as well as finding and acquiring an enjoyable hobby or learning a new skill or developing an existing talent in order to stimulate the mind. Above all find time to relax, or simply learn to do nothing other than be content with yourself.

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