The term “dry drunk” is used to describe an alcoholic who has stopped drinking, without entering treatment. A dry drunk has merely given up the addictive substance, but still suffers from the disease of addiction. With no program of recovery, a dry drunk is said to be “white-knuckling” their sobriety.
A dry drunk is someone who hasn’t yet learned to replace their addictive tendencies with healthy new behaviors. For this reason, dry drunks may simply substitute one addiction for another: They quit drinking, but go on “marijuana maintenance,” or begin eating or shopping compulsively, for example. Dry drunks have not addressed their mental obsession.
Dry drunks are often full of anger, resentment, and self-pity, as well as having depression and anxiety. They may go on “emotional benders,” and are sometimes described as “rageaholics.” Though they have stopped drinking, they haven’t really changed. Thus, it’s entirely likely they will go back to drinking at some point.
Only with treatment can real change begin. Therein lies the difference between the concepts of sobriety and recovery: Sobriety is simply abstinence from alcohol, while recovery is defined as, “a restoration or return to health from sickness.” Recovery means returning to a state of physical, mental, and spiritual health, while remaining sober. Put simply, a dry drunk is sober without being in recovery.
In entering treatment, however, we find that real change is possible. By attending an inpatient program, outpatient clinic, cognitive therapy, 12-step program – or any combination of these – we address the root causes of our addiction. Recovery involves looking at our addictive thoughts, emotions and behaviors, and learning new ways to cope with life on life’s terms, without alcohol.
Addiction is a progressive, incurable, and fatal disease, if left untreated. When we enter recovery, our disease goes into remission. With a lot of effort, patience, and persistence, we learn a whole new way of living. We no longer suffer from our alcoholism, but instead learn to fill the emptiness in our lives that we once tried to relieve by drinking. We begin to experience serenity and joy.