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What is a Dry Drunk?



When attempting to overcome addiction, there are many different phases of the recovery process. Even if you manage to overcome the physical addiction to alcohol, you can still be what is called a “Dry Drunk”.

What is a Dry Drunk?

After overcoming any withdrawal symptoms associated with alcoholism, any of the psychological or behaviors that developed during the course of the addiction are still there. Those types of struggles can really only be fixed through some type of behavioural psychology.

Deciding not to receive any kind of therapy is not recommended because it leaves half of the situation unsolved. A lack of therapy can lead to possible relapse and behavior problems that could have been solved with a bit of counseling.

Dry Drinking is also known as “untreated alcoholism”

Even though someone has given up drinking and doesn’t experience any more withdrawal symptoms, they can still be considered an alcoholic if their behavior patterns are not addressed.

Dry Drinkers often fall into similar thought patterns as they did while they were still drinking and those thought patterns take much more than giving up alcohol to truly overcome these destructive actions.

Dry Drunks can still exhibit a superiority complex where they either play the victim or view themselves as superior to others, much like people who are still abusing drugs or alcohol. It takes a proper therapist or counsellor to help someone overcome certain thought patterns.

Symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Dry Drunk or an untreated alcoholic are slang terms for post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Some symptoms of PAWS are problems with reaction time, dizziness, and frequent struggling with coordination or balance.

Many symptoms associated with alcoholism can occur even in someone who hasn’t had a drink in a very long time since alcohol was used to mask many of the feelings associated with addiction.

This is most likely why the term “Dry Drunk” was coined. If you experience many of the symptoms below, you may be suffering from PAWS:

  • Using other actions to cope (eg. sex, food, video games)
  • Feeling jealous of your friends who don’t suffer from addiction
  • Feeling nostalgic for your drinking days
  • Wanting to isolate yourself from friends or family
  • Feeling fearful of a relapse
  • Holding a lot of resentment about recovering

Even though someone with PAWS understands how important it is to get sober, they can still go through the stages of grief since attaining sobriety can feel very much like going through the death of a loved one. That’s how serious addiction can become.

Understanding the symptoms of a Dry Drunk

Being someone with PAWS isn’t a matter of being too lazy to recover, or unwilling to change, it develops due to how hard it is to overcome alcohol addiction.

But being the loved one of someone with PAWS can be very difficult as well. Oftentimes, recovering alcoholics can lash out at those who “made them” give up alcohol.

They can hold resentment that you don’t have an addiction your struggling with. But aside from anger, people with PAWS can also be embarrassed or ashamed by their addiction. They can hold very real fear that they’ll relapse and be in the same place where they started.

While you should attempt to be supportive of your friend or loved one, it’s important to help them seek help in the form of therapy or counseling to truly see them recover.

What causes PAWS?

Attempting to overcome alcohol addiction is not an easy task. Becoming sober is a painful task both mentally and physically. Once someone stops consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, they can begin healing, but that process is a long and laborious one.

With the absence of alcohol, many of the feelings someone was attempting to cover up with alcohol begin to bubble up to the surface. Feelings of anxiety surrounding whether their alcoholism is ruining their lives or what they’ll do now that they don’t have alcohol to help them cope.

As previously mentioned, they’ll go through a grieving process while attempting to overcome their addiction and this will cause further distress.

Don’t become a Dry Drunk

The fear of becoming a Dry Drunk is a very valid one. It’s incredibly easy to develop this type of alcoholism if you don’t seek proper treatment.

To truly avoid developing PAWS, seek proper treatment in the form of therapy or a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Support groups allow you to see you’re not the only one suffering from addiction and you can talk to others who are facing similar problems and listen to how they’re coping with them.

You can also journal when you’re feeling particularly fearful, depressed, or angry. Writing your feelings down is a great way to begin to work through and understand your feelings.

You’ve already made the decision to stop drinking. Don’t make the mistake of attempting to solve your addiction by yourself. You’re setting yourself up for another round of misery.

How PAWS affects friends and family

When someone announces to their friends or families that they’re going to stop drinking, they’re usually extremely happy for their loved one. They’re finally going to overcome this addiction that has ruled their life for years.

Who wouldn’t be happy? But it won’t be long before friends and loved ones begin to see the ugly side of sobriety. Recovering alcoholics tend to experience similar mood swings and anger problems as they did when they were still drinking.

Anyone close to a recovering alcoholic might worry about speaking about certain issues because they’re worried about upsetting their recovering loved one and causing a relapse. Some spouses of recovering alcoholics even prefer their loved ones when they were still drinking rather than when they’re sober.

Why at-home recovery is risky for people with PAWS

Not seeking professional help or the help of a support group can strain familial relationships due to the recovering party’s fluctuating mood and actions.

It is not developed due to a reluctance to better oneself, but rather because someone feels they cannot afford treatment or that they do not need to seek it.

While it may seem like a simple task to stop drinking, engaging in risky habits is still very possible when someone is attempting to achieve sobriety.

If someone seeks professional help from a therapist or by going to a support group, they can overcome many of the symptoms associated with PAWS.

The dangers of relapsing while sober

When someone relapses after being sober for some time, the feelings of withdrawal are gone. When an alcohol-dependent person drinks while feeling bad, they’re not relieving the pain of the bad emotions they’re feeling, they’re relieving the pain of withdrawal.

This is a particularly dangerous situation when dealing with someone who doesn’t experience withdrawal because they will attempt to keep drinking to attain that feeling of relief they felt while they were still addicted to alcohol. This will most likely lead to more binge drinking and relapse back into alcoholism.

Common feelings during and after relapse are the anxiety and disappointment in themselves for failing. But they will begin to feel that withdrawal again and the cycle begins once more.

Averting your mind from PAWS

If you’re struggling with the negative thoughts associated with PAWS, there are several ways in which you can attempt to find some sort of happiness while you’re healing.

a. Ask your loved ones for help

Alcoholism frequently leads to isolation due to fear of your loved ones questioning your drinking habits.

When you’re no longer drinking, try to spend more time with your family. They have your best interest at heart and want you to be happy and healthy.

If you have some free time, try to spend it with your family. Have lunch with them or take them to see a movie.

Studies have shown how important it is to spend time with others and how helpful it is for your mental health. If you reconnect with your loved ones, you’ll at least feel a bit better.

b. Do something in your free time

Whether it’s writing in your journal or taking up painting, trying something new or picking up a hobby is a great way to fill all that time that was spent drinking with some other types of activities you actually enjoy.

If you want to learn something new, maybe take an online class. The world is your oyster now that you’re not dependant on alcohol. Take advantage of your sobriety.

c.Take up some type of exercise

While this is a rather cliche piece of advice, there’s no denying that exercise can make you feel better.

Get together with your friends and go to the gym. Yoga is great for the mind as well as the body, so attend a class or two to help with your recovery.

Helping someone with PAWS to recovery

If someone you love is struggling with PAWS, it can be tough to mention ways in which they could stand to improve.

After all, they’re trying to overcome their addiction, how would critiquing them do anything other than make them feel bad? Your loved one can feel especially sensitive to their emotions since they likely haven’t felt them fully in a very long time.

It is important to remain calm and supportive of your loved one. This is an incredibly delicate situation and they’re trying their best to improve their life. Don’t be judgemental or confrontational while speaking to your loved one.

Tell them that you’re not only interested in them being sober, but also with them being happy. Knowing someone is there for you and is supportive of you recovering is an empowering feeling and can really help them feel like they have some sort of control in their lives.

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