What Does “Dry Drunk” Mean?

What Does “Dry Drunk” Mean?


– April 23, 2017

The only thing you have to change in recovery is everything, recovery veterans often joke to anxious newcomers. Even in The Big Book Of Alcoholics Anonymous the authors encourage seeing a therapist and working on issues outside of alcoholism as simply quitting drinking is not enough. If all that needed to change for an alcoholic to stay sober was not drinking, they probably could have done that by the time they come close to something called “rock bottom”. Alcoholism is rarely a stand alone issue. For each alcoholic there is a laundry list of “isms” as they are called- all the other issues, personality traits, character defects, quirks, defenses, coping mechanisms, and even co-occurring mental health issues, which contributed to alcoholism in some way. As The Big Book authors point out, for alcoholics, liquor “was but a symptom”.

Defining The Dry Drunk

You can take an alcoholic out of the bar but you don’t always take the bar out of the alcoholic. Someone has been clean and sober for decades. Years have gone by and they’ve managed to make it through every day without picking up a drink. Yet, they still don’t seem to be better. In fact, their family and friends might agree, they were preferable when they were drinking- and that is saying something! Recovery is full of cliche sayings and mantras that ring true especially for the concept of the dry drunk. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Many argue that a dry drunk is better than an active drunk, yet many point out that a dry drunk will drink eventually. If nothing else changes about the alcoholic and his or her life are they really “recovering”? Most treatment programs and the twelve steps of recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous would say no. A dry drunk is just a drunk, acting like an alcoholic, without the drink.

How Do You Spot A Dry Drunk

Outside of the chronic and uncontrollable drinking, everyone’s alcoholism is a little bit different. Though the underlying issues are relatively universal, the specificities are the unique. Characteristics of a dry drunk could include:

Having a bad attitude
Refusing to take accountability or responsibility for anything in life
Playing the victim, blaming
Being abusive or having another addiction like sex, gambling, or food
Not working the steps, completing a treatment program, or receiving help
Determined to do everything their own way
No close relationships or stories of mended relationships
Lacking in spiritual characteristics like humility and faith


Recovery is a commitment to a lifestyle change, mind, body, and spirit. If you’re ready to go there, we’re here to take you there. Get Real Recovery offers treatment programs for life changes. For more information on our residential and outpatient programs, call 866-983-3651 today.

Dana Claire
Dana Claire, on in Alcoholism

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