What is Dry Drunk Syndrome?

Last Updated on August 11, 2023

What is Dry Drunk Syndrome?
Empty alcohol bottles in silhouette on a windowsill.

People often think that if they could just stop drinking, it would solve all their problems. But more often than not, there is an underlying deeper issue that the individual is using alcohol to cope with. Situations like this can very easily develop into what’s commonly referred to as Dry Drunk Syndrome.

History and Definition

The term “Dry Drunk” was first coined by the creator of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Dry drunk describes someone who has removed alcohol from their lives without removing the initial components that cause or contribute to alcohol dependency. Alcoholism is often a symptom of an underlying issue that requires changes in behavior and lifestyle to achieve and maintain sobriety. Without any changes in behavior and lifestyle, sobriety is likely difficult to maintain because a person is still dependent on alcohol as a reliable crutch. 

Some people may confuse Dry Drunk Syndrome with another condition called “wet brain.” While these terms may seem similar, wet brain describes someone with the symptoms of drunkenness without actually consuming any alcohol. This disorder occurs in individuals who have suffered brain damage as a result of heavy and prolonged alcohol consumption. By comparison, Dry Drunk Syndrome is not a medically recognized disorder, but a helpful turn of phrase to identify the revolving door of changing a habit without changing behavior.


The biggest cause of this condition is an alcoholic misidentifying alcohol as the root of all their problems. Abstinence from alcohol is of course an important and necessary step towards sobriety and recovery but it’s not a standalone solution. Regardless of the addiction, whether it manifests as alcoholism or drug dependency, abstinence alone is not a sustainable form of sobriety. 

Dry Drunk Syndrome provides the illusion of independence from alcohol. But in reality, it is simply a vicious cycle of removing the perceived issue only to return to it because it’s just a self-prescribed solution to the actual issue. Dry Drunk Syndrome is also commonly referred to as “white knuckling” for this exact reason. None of the underlying issues are being resolved or treated. The only thing that has changed is that the individual has removed their one coping mechanism. It’s only natural that a person will eventually cave and return to abusing the one substance that allows them to keep up the appearance of managing their issues.

Co-Occurring Disorders

There are a number of reasons a person may turn to drinking as a means of coping with a problem. Trauma, genetic predisposition, underdeveloped coping skills, and social conditioning are among the few general issues are person may be facing. But there is also the possibility that a disorder is present that coincides with alcoholism. In fact, these co-occurring disorders often exacerbate each other in tandem. Some common examples include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar/Manic-Depressive 
  • Schizophrenia

Some of these examples are more severe cases of co-occurring disorders. But regardless of the severity, it’s easy to see how simple abstinence from alcohol is not an adequate solution to any of these situations. All of the examples listed above recommend significant changes in behavior and lifestyle, ideally coupled with therapy.

Changed Behavior

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has become a common and reliable treatment for alcoholism and extended substance addiction. CBT helps people examine their thought patterns and develop healthier mindsets and processes. But CBT isn’t the only option available in treating co-occurring disorders or any other underlying issues that drive alcoholism. 

Some people find group therapy very beneficial being supported by a community of their peers. Treatment is different based on the needs of the individual. The most important takeaway is that a person struggling with alcoholism is being proactive in their recovery and working to reorganize their behavior and lifestyle.

Resources with Nova Recovery

Nova Recovery Center tailors individualized treatment which includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Our qualified staff dedicates themselves to a healthy and safe environment that fosters growth and lasting recovery. We have drug rehab facilities conveniently located in Wimberley, Houston, and Austin Texas. If you or someone you know are struggling with addiction and looking for options in treatment, Nova Recovery Center can provide support. Call (888) 427 – 4932 today for more information on our individualized programs and amenities.

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