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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

01-28-16 | By

Understanding Dry Drunk Syndrome and How It Will Undermine Your Recovery

Sober of Dry

If you could sum up active addiction in one word, what would it be? When you take a cold hard look deep within yourself and were able to find deepest and widest line that connects all of your actions, thoughts, behaviors, and feelings one word comes to mind–negativity.

Throughout your drug and alcohol addiction, negativity hung over  you like a big, thick black cloud that obscured the reality of your situation. Nothing was right and every bad situation or event in your life was someone else’s fault and not your own. You finally flipped on the switch to your conscience and accepted the fact that you couldn’t hide any longer from the long reach of substance abuse.

You address those issues by making the commitment to drug treatment, and while you were able to put the proverbial plug in the jug, things aren’t quite right. You are looking and feeling great, and you should be savoring the small victories of your hard fought sobriety — yet that dark cloud that hung over your head is still following you.

You spend your stays stewing with lingering anger, and maybe you are holding resentments in your recovery. The negativity that should be diminishing is staying steady and even growing stronger. If you are trying to put a finger on the pulse of what you are experiencing, what you are going through in your recovery is what is commonly known as dry drunk syndrome.

Defining Dry Drunk Syndrome

To put this phenomenon in simple terms, dry drunk syndrome occurs when people give up using drugs and alcohol but they still wrestle with the psychological aspects of their addiction. We can think of the dry drunk phenomenon as a recovery purgatory in the fact that while a person has stopped drinking or drugging (which is a good thing) they haven’t dealt with the underlying baggage that gave birth to their addiction (which is a bad thing).

Being a dry drunk can stem from a number of sources. On one hand, those who are experience a dry drunk usually do so because they felt they could get sober on their own and didn’t receive therapy, counseling or any other treatment service. Basically, the only difference between them and someone who is still active in addiction is the absence of a substance.

Another way in which the dry drunk phenomenon occurs is if somebody had successfully completed a drug and alcohol treatment program, but have regressed in their recovery. This may include little or no participation in 12-Step groups, or having little or no active contact or work with their sponsor. As a result, they eventually reassume the mentality of an addict and start isolating themselves from those in their support system and exhibit a general unease in their daily lives.

How Does Someone In Recovery Develop Dry Drunk Syndrome?

A possible origin of the dry drunk phenomenon can be traced to the medical detoxification process. No matter what substance is abused, there are physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that can be extremely uncomfortable and painful to endure. While drug and alcohol detox services help minimize the discomfort associated with the withdrawal process, those who experience withdrawal undergo wide swings in emotions, behaviors and actions.

These wide swings can make those new in recovery act out in unpredictable and sometimes volatile ways. If this is not addressed during the drug treatment, the newly recovering addict will grow to focus on the negatives of addiction. This attitude can have great impact on family, friends and others who want to provide much needed support to the addict. It is the addict’s inability to process and understand the vast changes that detoxification and treatment bring that allows the dry drunk mentality to grow.

What Do I Need to Look For?

Like many things that can sabotage your recovery, the dry drunk mentality develops slowly over time. At first, the attitudes and behaviors that define this type of mindset are not on the radar. However, if left unchecked and not addressed, they can dominate a person’s actions and can cause them to backslide towards a relapse. If you are noticing that you are starting to get sour in your recovery, there are several things that you need to be on the lookout for in regards to attitudes and emotions.

One tell-tale sign that you may be experiencing dry drunk syndrome is that you adopt a self-centered and superior attitude. It is known in 12-Step circles as terminal uniqueness, and with this mindset you place yourself in the center of the universe and you may feel that no one understands what you are going through because you are special.

Another sign of a dry drunk mentality is that you have poor impulse control. You become impatient with your recovery and you feel that you can do what you want when you want to despite the consequences your behavior may bring. When a lack of self-control combines with a self-centered attitude as described in the previous paragraph, it will bring out that shadowy and addictive side that you had worked hard to address and overcome.

Additionally, dry drunk syndrome may occur due to complacency. Oftentimes in the recovery process, it can be forgotten that progress is often measured in baby steps. If you are feeling that you are hitting a plateau in your recovery journey, you may start losing your motivation to continue working your plan of recovery. You may start missing meetings and you may stop working with your sponsor. The thought that you “have things figured out” or that “recovery is done” can lure you back into self-centeredness and make you ripe for a relapse.

You also may start taking on a judgemental attitude towards ourselves and others. Once you start judging others or yourself in terms of being greater than or less than, you are creating a situation where you are manipulating how you feel on the in similar ways as substances function. This can create a situation where you start isolating yourself from your support network, and isolation leads to regression in your recovery and possibly to the point of relapse.

What Can I Do?

The feelings and behaviors associated with dry drunk syndrome can be extremely frustrating to deal with, and the best way to get yourself out of that rut is to re-commit to being active in your recovery. You need to start increasing the number of meetings you attend, and you also need to start re-connecting with your sponsor and your peers in recovery. It is also highly advisable that you lean on the trusted people in your support system and have the courage to speak about how you are feeling to those who support you. These actions will reignite your passion for your recovery and get you back on track.

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