alcoholic dry drunk
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What exactly is a dry drunk?

Dry drunk is a slang expression infamously known in the sober community. It describes a person who no longer drinks or abuses drugs, but continues to behave in dysfunctional ways.

What is a dry drunk? It can best be defined as someone who fits at least one of two conditions. The first condition is someone who has given up drinking and drugging and not made any internal or emotional changes, they stay the same but the substance is gone. The second condition is when someone proclaims abstinence but drifted off a progressive path of recovery has slowly returned to chaotic and unrealistic thinking. This is also called stinking thinking.


Being active in your addiction to drugs or alcohol for example, creates many trains of thought, attitudes, feelings and actions that can remain problematic in recovery. Simply removing the alcohol or drugs without changing these underlying factors will produce the dry drunk syndrome. The dry drunk really refers to a condition and not the person. It is important to recognize an emotional relapse back to our old ways of thinking and acting, or lack of progress and self development) in moving forward in recovery.

dry drunk addict

Dry drunk traits consist of:

  • Exaggerated self-importance and pomposity
  • Grandiose behavior
  • A rigid, judgmental outlook
  • Impatience
  • Childish behavior
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Irrational rationalization
  • Projection
  • Overreaction



The dry drunk is a precursor to the beginnings of a relapse. The AA Big Book describes this condition as being restless, irritable, and discontented. This set of attitudes can apply to anyone who is chemically dependent, or even those who were not.

Here are some of the attitudes common with the dry drunk syndrome:


Grandiosity – basically means a return to a self-centered, ‘the world revolves around’ me attitude. In 12 Step literatures this is the concept of being “self-centered in the extreme”. It does not have to necessarily mean that I believe I am the best; it can also be seeking attention through playing the victim or sitting on the pity pot.


Impulsivity – A common attitude or observable behavior of people with addiction problems is poor impulse control. We tend to do what we want when we want, with little regard for self harm or hurting others around us. Impulsivity can be linked with grandiosity to engage in behaviors designed to make us the center of attention.


Being judgmental – This is a very destructive attitude for people in recovery. When we judge a person as being better than or less than, we are setting up a situation where we inflate our egos feeling better than other people. On the other hand if we judge ourselves to be on the short end we can feel bitter and generate low self-esteem. Being judgmental is a low self-esteem generator. When you can sit in a fellowship meeting from start to finish and not judge anyone including yourself then you are probably growing up!


Complacency – This is not only an attitude of somebody in dry drunk syndrome, but is a red flag warning sign of someone who is well into the relapse process. An important facet of being in active recovery is just that, being active, and moving forward. It is not how fast you are going but rather the direction in which you are headed. If you become lazy or disinterested and stop being proactive about your recovery, the natural to a tendency is to fall back into addictive behaviors. Your re-engagement in them is just a short step away.

alcoholic dry drunk

Once you are lured into any of these attitudes, they start to affect how you think. Once your thinking is affected and you start to buy into self-centered thoughts, chances are you’ll engage in the actions stemming from these self-centered thoughts.

Here are some destructive patterns and actions that can result from dry drunk thinking:


  1. We become restless and irritable and discontent.
  2. We become bored, dissatisfied, and easily distracted from productive tasks.
  3. Our emotions and feelings get listless and dull, nothing excites us anymore.
  4. We start to engage in euphoric recall and yearning for the good old days of active using and forgetting the pain and shame of active addiction.
  5. We start to engage in ‘magical thinking’ we get stuck in unrealistic and fanciful expectations and dreams.
  6. The last thing we should do is engage in introspection to improve ourselves.
  7. We start to become unfulfilled and have the feeling that nothing will ever satisfy our yearning or fill the returning ‘hole in the sole’.


Looking back at the list of attitudes and thought distortions listed above, it is easy to see how the dry drunk is simply nothing more than reverting back to the thinking we had whilst active in our disease. If you are starting to notice some of the attitudes discussed creeping back into your life, it’s time to start paying attention or run the risk of relapse. For help with dry drunk symptoms and or addiction concerns or assistance get in touch with Pathways Addiction Treatment Rehab Centre for assistance. We can help with in patient treatment courses right through to online courses in recovery.