abstinence versus recovery

Ancedotal Evidence provides insight into the “Dry Drunk”

Alcoholics Anonymous refers to the alcoholic who has stopped drinking, but who still demonstrates alcoholic attitudes and behaviors, as a “dry drunk.” Such individuals are said to have sobriety but not recovery. We will explore the dry drunk syndrome in more detail in later blogs. The dry drunk syndrome highlights to us that there is more to addiction and alcoholism than substance abuse and dependence. There is an underlying “malady” which is often present before drinking or drug use and which appears to worsen via the toxic effects of substance abuse. In other words, what was there before hand, whatever vulnerability to later addiction, became a lot worse via years of abusing substances.

We have mentioned many times via various blogs that we feel this vulnerability is an inherent emotional processing and regulation deficit.

In later blogs we will hope to demonstrate how being a dry drunk or in the action is a state of constant emotional malaise and that recovery is a process of learning how to process and regulate emotions, to live with life on life’s terms, to grow up effectively out of emotional immaturity.

Although the concept of the dry drunk has been adopted by other self-help programs, “staying in action” is an equivalent and arguably more meaningful expression to use for the understanding and treatment of many pathological gamblers. The author in the article cited here (1) discusses covert gambling, mind bets, switching and fusing
of addictions, procrastination, risk-taking, and power games; a repertoire of ways in which the individual can remain in a gambling mind-set while technically abstinent. We discuss these in tomorrow’s blog. First we briefly describe the dry drunk.

Although characteristics of the dry drunk syndrome differ widely from site to site. Most often mentioned are: (1) depression; (2) anxiety; (3) irritability, anger; (4) grandiosity, pomposity, an inflated ego; 5) an inability to delay gratification, impatience and impulsivity; 6) self-pity; (7) being a workaholic, other compulsive behaviors, tunnel vision, a lack of balance; (8) intolerance, rigidity, being overly judgmental; (9) nostalgia toward or romanticizing of one’s drinking or drug use;
and (10) emotional constriction, lack of spontaneity, failure to enjoy life.

Despite differences of opinion as to its symptoms, traits or components, and the paucity of attention paid to it by clinical researchers, the lay term “dry drunk” remains extremely useful. It describes those individuals who have abstained from the substance or behavior to which they were addicted, but who have not changed attitudes and behaviors that accompanied that

They have not dealt with problems which had been masked or temporarily avoided due to it, and as a consequence are not progressing in their recovery. The dry drunk is at risk for relapse.
Although the term has been used to varying degree by all of the twelve-step programs including Gamblers Anonymous (GA), certain crucial differences are pertinent.

We discuss these tomorrow….


1. Rosenthal, R. J. (2005). Staying in action: The pathological gambler’s equivalent of the dry drunk. Journal of Gambling Issues.

2 replies »

  1. Reblogged this on maggiemia110 and commented:
    I live with a dry drunk, 7 years now. I would definitely like to read more about this “syndrome”? He functions to work (age 74), but can’t focus on anything else like finishing projects at home. He doesn’t enjoy anything or anyone anymore. He has literally stopped living. I am only 59 and I am ready to throw in the towel?

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