Article | March 2018

The Dry Drunk

A hazard for recovering alcoholics

When an alcoholic stops drinking, it’s something to celebrate. But sobriety isn't guaranteed to last. It takes hard work and commitment to stay sober. You'll also need to keep an eye out for dangers. One danger to a nondrinking alcoholic is the dry drunk.

What's a dry drunk?

A dry drunk is a set of negative habits and attitudes. A recovering alcoholic can easily slip into these habits. A dry drunk can take the joy out of life for an alcoholic and his loved ones. And a dry drunk is often a signal that a relapse is coming. This can happen even if the alcoholic has been sober for years. The good news is that a dry drunk can be treated. Let's look first at how to recognize it. Then we'll go over some suggestions on how to cope with it.

What are the warning signs?

Alcoholics can develop many abnormal attitudes and behaviors. Some of these stick around even after the alcoholic gets sober. These attitudes and behaviors are also symptoms of the dry drunk. Loved ones may not recognize the symptoms, since they're used to the behavior.

Some typical signs of a dry drunk are:

  • Acting self-important, either by “having all the answers,” or playing “poor me"
  • Making harsh judgments of self and others
  • Being impatient or impulsive
  • Blaming others for one's own faults
  • Being dishonest, usually beginning with little things
  • Acting impulsively or selfishly
  • Struggling to make decisions
  • Having mood swings, trouble with expressing emotions, feeling unsatisfied
  • Feeling detached, self-absorbed, bored, distracted, or disorganized
  • Longing for the drinking life
  • Fantasizing or daydreaming
  • Backing away from or dropping out of a 12-step program

How is it treated?

An alcoholic experiencing a dry drunk can get better with help. He can learn to see the world and himself more realistically. And he can work on habits that may lead to a happier life. The goals of treatment are to develop responsible behavior, patience, honesty, and self-acceptance. If you or a loved one are experiencing a dry drunk, try these steps:

  • Ask for guidance or referrals from your Employee Assistance Program.
  • Talk to a health professional trained in chemical dependency issues.
  • Get in touch with Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon (for families of alcoholics) and attend meetings.

Talking to other people who understand can be the best help of all. Getting sober is a major triumph. A dry drunk is a bump in the road. It can be overcome with the right support.

Cigna Can Help

If you have coverage through Cigna, we are available by phone at 1 (877) 622-4327 any time to help you understand what services are available to support you during this time.

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This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not medical/clinical advice. Only a health care provider can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health benefits, you can call the member services or behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care ID card.