Dry Drunk Syndrome


Dry Drunk Syndrome

Table of Contents

What is Dry Drunk Syndrome?

The term “Dry Drunk Syndrome” originated in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA’s Big Book tells the story of how thousands of men and women recovered from alcohol and defines Dry Drunk Syndrome as being characterized by restlessness, irritability, and discontent.1 The condition can also lead to mood swings and other changes in behavior.2

Dry Drunk Syndrome is a side effect of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is a medical term for the symptoms that occur after stopping alcohol use. Most people will experience symptoms of discomfort when withdrawing from alcohol. Symptoms that commonly occur with Dry Drunk Syndrome include headaches, stomach issues, anxiety, depression, and more.

For most, these symptoms will go away within two weeks. However, those who have consumed large amounts of drugs and/or alcohol for an extended period may experience symptoms over a longer amount of time. This is referred to as PAWS.

PAWS can make recovery more difficult. Patients know that they can ‘cure’ their symptoms if they go back to drinking, and relapse is more likely. Fortunately, some methods help patients overcome PAWS and stay sober.3

Dry Drunk Syndrome Symptoms

Dry Drunk Syndrome affects mood and behavior. Symptoms can vary per person.

Mood symptoms

  • Anger, irritability, frustration
  • Depression
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Lack of patience
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Resentment towards yourself and others
  • Feelings of self-pity, negativity, and hopelessness
  • Easily distracted
  • Boredom
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Difficulty expressing emotions

Behavioral symptoms

  • Impulsive or aggressive behavior
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dishonesty
  • A tendency to blame or criticize oneself
  • Frequent fantasizing, often about alcohol
  • Taking up other habits like watching TV or gambling to cope with sobriety
  • Frustration with treatment

These symptoms can get in the way of productivity and one’s ability to have healthy relationships with others. They also make relapse more likely.

The Psychology of Dry Drunk Syndrome

Physical and Mental Conditions

Many people turn to alcohol to treat underlying mental issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more. When these underlying causes are not properly addressed, it can cause mood swings and allow behavior to get out of hand.


Stress is almost unavoidable in the rehab process. Patients must deal with the pressure of staying sober and avoiding a breakdown back to substance use. They must also face the responsibilities that come with sober living. This stress can lead to the behaviors and mood swings associated with Dry Drunk Syndrome.


Habits are things we do every day, and they bring calmness and structure to our lives. Habits are not always bad, but they can be in certain situations. For people dealing with alcoholism, drinking has become part of their habit. Without it, they feel unhinged. The break from this bad habit can exacerbate feelings of stress that make Dry Drunk Syndrome more likely to occur.4

Support Offered by Recovery Facilities

Recovery facilities should treat patients using comprehensive techniques that address both addiction and underlying issues. When treatment fails to address what causes addictive behavior, patients may see their emotions get out of hand. They are best off working with medical professionals who can handle addiction on every level and who have a clear understanding of Dry Drunk Syndrome.

Coping Skills to Minimize the Effects of Dry Drunk Syndrome

Dry Drunk Syndrome is problematic for those in recovery, but patients who learn proper coping skills have better chances of success. Some techniques one can use to maintain sobriety include:

Communication with Others

Opening up to others about addiction is not easy, but it can be an important step in staying sober. Talking to loved ones about hardships and feelings helps a patient overcome their issues and strengthen their relationships. If a person doesn’t have friends or relatives they can talk to, communicating with people in their group therapy meetings may help. Patients can also find a sponsor to serve as a communication point throughout the sobriety journey.


Self-care will improve one’s mood and can make them feel better. A healthy lifestyle can make one less likely to put unhealthy substances in the body. Developing good habits will also replace bad ones.

Self-care can be integrated on a physical or emotional level. Here are some things to consider including in your routine:

  • Eating healthy foods
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Taking time out for yourself
  • Spending time with the people you love
  • Exercising

Develop New Coping Skills

Many alcoholics use drugs to cope with stress and anxiety. Fortunately, there are other ways to deal with these symptoms such as:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Journaling
  • Painting
  • Playing music
  • Other creative outlets
  • Exercise
  • Healthy eating
  • Therapy

Treating Dry Drunk Syndrome

Taking the steps to treat Dry Drunk Syndrome can be effective, but it is advisable to combine them with professional therapy. A therapist will figure out the underlying causes of a person’s problems and come up with a treatment plan that works best for them. Here are some types of treatment to consider:

12-Step Groups

A 12-step group follows the recovery method pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12-step method is currently used in most treatment centers. It is based on Christian inspiration and encourages people to turn to a power greater than themselves to find relief from their addiction.

Some people don’t like the fact that the strategy integrates religion, but it provides a basic outline that can be effective for many individuals. In fact, research shows that abstinence supported by the 12-step program accounts for higher levels of successful recovery. One study showed that 40.7% of those who maintained abstinence through the 12-step program were experiencing higher levels of mental health after three months of sobriety.

The 12-step method requires individuals in recovery to attend a 12-step group where they meet with others to share their experiences. In doing so, they go through 12 steps of recovery that include admitting they have a problem and assessing the damage addiction has caused. The program moves them through a state of enlightenment and gets them to a point where they can help others.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is commonly used to treat mental illnesses that can be the underlying cause of addiction. It involves identifying a patient’s distortions that are creating problems. CBT allows patients to better understand what is behind their behavior and emotions. It provides healthy coping mechanisms that replace unhealthy behaviors.5

In terms of drinking, CBT will identify underlying problems causing the patient to drink. It will help the patient understand what’s behind their moods and behaviors. The therapist will then suggest healthy ways to deal with emotions other than reaching for a drink. CBT has been shown to significantly reduce addictive behavior with pronounced effects after 6 -9 months and more significant effects after a year.6

Addiction Treatment

It may be difficult to figure out what type of therapy works best in helping overcome alcoholism. A great first step is to go to a recovery center for addiction treatment.

A recovery center will start with detox which involves completely flushing the body of alcohol to reduce physical addiction. Therapy is used to help the patients deal with underlying issues and maintain sobriety. Once the program is completed, aftercare is available to ensure patients can adjust to sober living.

Arrow Passage Recovery provides end-to-end treatment for patients including intervention and detox alongside a wide range of therapies and aftercare. We see that our clients receive the necessary treatment for healthy recovery while also minimizing the occurrence of Dry Drunk Syndrome and relapse. Call us to take the first step in breaking the chains of alcoholism and moving on to happier, healthier living.

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